Unite, empower and inspire. That is the mantra that has underpinned the work that the Bhubesi Pride Foundation (BPF) has done in Africa over the past eight years.

Today, the foundation, which is a World Rugby Spirit of Rugby partner for 2019-20, uses rugby and netball as an educational tool in eight African countries; Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. 

Its annual expedition, meanwhile, connects volunteers from around the world with BPF staff and local partners on the ground to deliver sports, education and legacy programmes that promote social development.

The ultimate goal of the organisation, which is registered in the UK, is to establish NGOs in each of the countries in which it works. BPF has already done that in Malawi, where a project to build a community centre in a village close to the capital, Lilongwe is nearing completion.

“In Malawi, we’ve identified a plot of land, purchased a plot of land there, established an NGO and we're now building a sports and education community centre,” founder, Richard Bennett told World Rugby. 

“That absolutely typifies what we're all about, being able to provide the best possible resources to develop our programming and our work.

“We've got a local development officer there who's leading outreach programmes, and ultimately, this particular project we've raised nearly £300,000 for. 

“We'll have a full-on sports pitch, netball or multi-sport courts — two of them — changing rooms, a clubhouse, two classrooms or education spaces, an onsite manager's house, ultimately, for a local Malawian to manage the site and then on-site accommodation for visiting overseas schools, volunteers, whoever wants to come out and be a part of what we do.”

Up-skilling local communities

It is almost a decade since Bennett first had the idea to start a sports and education charity that could promote social development in rural communities throughout Africa.

Bennett had grown up in South Africa before moving to the UK, where he had completed his studies and become a teacher at an independent school.

A qualified tennis and rugby coach, he felt he could make a greater impact if he focused his energy on helping young people on the continent of his birth, and following a reconnaissance trip in 2011, he led his first expedition under the Bhubesi name a year later.

Wordsworth Rashid invited Bennett to stay with him and his family in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe during his initial fact-finding mission nine years ago. Rashid subsequently managed pilot programmes for the charity in 2016 and 2017, before being appointed as a development officer in 2018.

“We work with around 40-45 local Malawian coaches in that area, and a lot of them have been inspired by the work that we do, and obviously, seeing Wordsworth in a leading role,” Bennett said. 

“We would like to see a number of them becoming employed by BPF Malawi as coaches.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented BPF with “some pretty serious financial challenges”, according to the organisation’s CEO, Gareth Nokes.

BPF’s 2020 expedition was underway, and volunteers were in Tanzania, having already visited Kenya and Uganda, when Bennett and Nokes made the decision to postpone the trip in March.

Progress amid the pandemic

Nokes, who had only joined the charity in January, was himself on the expedition with his wife, while other volunteers had to be repatriated to countries as far afield as Canada and Chile. Volunteers and schools that had booked to come out later in the year, including pupils from Bedford and Harrow, were subsequently forced to cancel.

That had an economic impact on the charity, but BPF were also able to divert funding they had secured for 2020 into humanitarian aid to help the response in the communities the organisation works in.

The construction project in Malawi, meanwhile, was able to continue with social distancing measures put in place for the 12 labourers on site.

“The funding that is committed to those programmes for 2020 were repurposed for humanitarian activities. So, whether that was providing those beneficiaries with water or hand sanitiser or information about COVID-19 or whatever it was, we initiated those programmes which are now ongoing,” Bennett explained.

“Over the last few months, we've been able to complete our accommodation block and make a start on our clubhouse, which obviously consists of changing rooms and a viewing deck at the top and then these two classrooms. 

“So, that's been underway and credit to our team and our site manager, they've been able to keep that going. So, that's amazing.”

Bennett and Nokes are currently looking at the logistics surrounding the charity’s 2021 expedition. If you would like to join the overlanding trip as a volunteer, you can find more information here.

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