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On the road with rugby charity Bhubesi Pride in Africa Posted about 4 years ago

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“Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else can.” – Nelson Mandela

If you believe that only the elite players and coaches in our game have the power to inspire others then think again.

And if you believe that nothing in our sport can top the joy of coaching a team to victory or touching down for a try or stopping an opponent in their tracks with a crunching tackle, then you are mistaken once again.

Just ask Richard Bennett, the founder and driving force behind Bhubesi Pride.

Since 2011, the rugby-based charity has assembled teams for annual coaching expeditions that use the sport as a tool for education and development in Africa.

The charity has visited ten countries to date on a quest to ‘unite’ African children through rugby while addressing health education and life skills, ‘empower’ local people with equipment, resources, training and knowledge and ‘inspire’ sustainable development.

“In each country we work with a host of schools in every location,” explained Bennett who stepped away from a career in teaching to pursue his ‘dream’. “For example, in Nairobi in Kenya, we will work with three or four schools over the course of that week, running daily sessions and clinics with boys and girls.

“We will also run coach education sessions with teachers and other people passionate about trying to promote rugby and then at the end of the week we will run a tournament for anything from 200 to 500 kids.”

But the expeditions have not only enriched the lives of those living in the numerous communities visited – they have also had a significant impact on those coaches who have played a key role in the charity’s efforts to change lives.

“I enjoyed meeting so many new and welcoming and hospitable people,” said Pablo Dobrowolski, a 34-year-old teacher from Argentina who joined the expedition for a month earlier this year. “But more importantly, we leave a legacy with the schools and the many children we work with. We teach them not only the game of rugby but important values for their later life and because of that I am proud to have been able to contribute.”

That wider impact is one that continues to fuel Bennett’s enthusiasm. “It is really tangible,” he explained. “Rugby as a sport has some really transferable values like respect, discipline or teamwork and these are also values that people can take away into other areas of their life.”

Bennett’s passion for the game and its power to drive positive change is clear and a similar affection for the sport will be just as pivotal as a stack of coaching qualifications should you choose to apply to join next year’s expedition that will visit Uganda before moving on to Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and finally South Africa.

Coaches from across the world are being offered the chance to get involved and have the option joining the Pride for anything from three-weeks up to the full five month mission and share in what has been a life-changing experience for many.

“We have had some amazing volunteers work with us from diverse backgrounds,” said Bennett. “But given the work we do in communities at grass roots rugby it is just a case of reaching out to people who are genuinely passionate about the sport and want to share their knowledge, skills and passion for the game in Africa.”

Those lucky enough to secure a place on the expedition can look forward to developing as coaches and players with opportunities to play with senior club teams and even international sides also often offered.

“We understand that joining us for five months requires a huge financial and time commitment,” explained Bennett, “but you do not need to join us for the full expedition.

“Three or four weeks on the ground is of huge value to the charity and to the communities we visit and over that time people will be able to take away a massive amount from it both personally and professionally.”

It takes even less time to change a life – as witnessed by former Springbok Ollie le Roux. “The coaching offered to the kids in these communities adds incredible value to their lives,” he said having lent his support during the most recent expedition.

“These kids often don’t have anyone giving them any attention so you never know what you can impart in a couple of hours, you can really open the eyes of the youngsters.”

With the security provided by key partners such as Land Rover, G4S Africa and DHL, plans are already advanced for future expeditions and an increasing number of powerful supporters are throwing their weight behind the charity.

“It is really good to see what is happening and I am really happy with what Bhubesi Pride are doing,” said South African Rugby Union president and International Rugby Board vice chairman Oregan Hoskins, “and if we join forces we can be stronger.”

But the modest Bennett has little time for plaudits.

“I was with a guy called David Griffiths, a 21-year-old student from Wales, who was out with us for a month,” recalled Bennett. “He pulled me to one side one day at one of these huge tournaments in Namibia and said, ‘Do you ever stop to realise that you created this?’

“I told him no, not really. But it was quite nice to step back in that moment and look at everyone involved.”

It is therefore left to others to sing the charity’s praises, like another Pride member, 22-year-old Oli Munns. “Apply now, it will be the best five months of your life.”

The Rugby Site is proud to support Bhubesi Pride coaches with membership to our world-class coaching resource. The fundamentals of the game, as shared by our contributors, can be applied at all levels of the game right from the schools and coaches who are new to the game in Africa.

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Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist who has been reporting around the rugby globe for over 20 years. A former editor of the leading rugby union website Scrum.com, he is a veteran of five World Cups and cites England’s 2003 triumph as the most memorable moment of his professional career - closely followed by a night out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

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