Monday, 9 August 2010

Sub-Sahara Africa is the poorest region in the world and was ravished by the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS virus. The only continent to have become poorer over the last three decades, Africa suffers from mass unemployment. 64% of Zambia’s 12 million population earn less than the equivalent of one US dollar a day – which in turn causes a whole series out various problems relating to social development. However, there is one company is that is determined to offer its workers well above minimum wage in good working conditions. Alive and Kicking is a football (and netball and volleyball) production company, offering disabled and HIV/AIDS infected workers the chance of decent income and an escape from their desperate situations.

I came to find out about Alive and Kicking through the two Sport NGOs I’m working with out in Zambia. EduSport and Sport In Action both purchase their footballs from Alive and Kicking. Our equipment cupboard at the house is packed to the rafters with their products. Each ball proudly displays their logo, a warning of the dangers of malaria and their real signature, the writing ‘Against child labour’ around the ball’s air supply.

A massive fan of their ideals and interested to find out more, I managed to organise a meet with their Managing Director, Chad. True to most communication in the 21st century Chad and I originally conserved through SMS, therefore, I was caught offguard when we eventfully met in person. Chad is a American, and white – an important factor. I must admit, my first reaction was that of cyncialism. I was wary that perhaps everything I had heard of Alive and Kicking had been created for intentional marketing purposes. I guess that’s just a product of living in a Western society.

However, it didn’t take me long to realise I had been massively wrong. Almost immediately after we had passed our introductions, Chad offered me a cup of tea (after I told him I was English). One thing that struck me straight away about him was how passoniate he was about his job and how thoroughly he believed in it. Although he had only been in his role since September of 09, you’d think the way he spoke about the company, it was his own.

We spoke for a while, about Alive and Kicking, and also about the IDEALS project I was proud to be apart of. He was genuine and although he stated how manic his past week had been, he had made plenty of time for our meet. I was given a tour of the stitching rooms, which were spacious. I was told of the process of making a ball and shortly learnt of the skill required to be able to stitch.

Each stitcher has the aim of making 3 balls a day – which doesn’t sound a lot, but Alive and Kicking balls are of the highest standard. Even in the terrains of the compounds the IDEALS students operate, the Alive and Kicking balls are hard wearing and do not fall apart – something more famous production company’s products could be accused of.

I sat with Chris, one of the stitchers (pictured below). He told me about his average day at the stitching centre, located at ZamLeather, Zambia’s biggest producer of leather.

All of the stitchers seemed to enjoy their job and enjoyed a good standard of living, all of which is of course relevant to the country in which they live.

It was a pleasant environment to be around and seemed nice enough to be working in. There was a good atmosphere and additional activities were encouraged by the management. The workers were very enthusiastic about their work football team, playing every Saturday morning in a league.

Chad treated me to lunch – nshima, chicken, tomatoes and cabbage. I can quite comfortably say I’ll miss Zambian food so much when I return back to Britain.

After lunch, we returned to our conversation about the organisation – I call it an organisation because it stretches well beyond the definition of a business – offering a decent standard of living for those that would ultimately struggle otherwise.

There are reasons to remain optismistic – since their company’s birth, they’ve created over 130 jobs for Africans. Despite their American managing director, they stay true to their roots boosting of the fact their products are: made by Africans, in Africa for Africans on their company t-shirts. Through their work, they’ve targeted over 25,000 children with the intention of educating them about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. They’ve distributed 250,000 footballs, netballs and volleyballs all together. After today, they will have distributed 250,001. You can order personalised footballs or organisations such as EduSport and Sport In Action can have a specific design for their required desires.

Friend of EduSport, a UK charity supporting the work of EduSport last week created a formal partnership with Alive and Kicking. Supporting their work and ordering ten footballs for their Go! Sisters world series to be held next year, Friend of EduSport are more than happy to give Alive and Kicking business.

Made in Africa, by Africa, for Africa – Alive and Kicking.