Alive & Kicking

Providing footballs, jobs and AIDS
awareness in Africa. Alive & Kicking
is a British charity providing jobs and
health education in Africa

There is a simple concept in life that almost every child is familiar with. It is the basic but beautiful act of playing with a ball in the street. Amid a torrent of tablet computers and smartphones, there may be less children doing it, but it still has the power to change lives – just ask any Premier League footballer.

In Africa, not only does it change lives, it saves them, thanks to a British social enterprise responsible for creating jobs and spreading HIV/Aids awareness with the help of a simple round ball. For the past eight years, Alive & Kicking has been manufacturing sports balls in Africa. It has three factories, one in Kenya, Zambia and a third in Ghana.

The sports balls – for football, volleyball, handball, netball and rugby – are made using local leather and made by local workers, many of whom have been given their first job by Alive & Kicking. It also invests money in teaching young people about HIV/Aids. Alive & Kicking was founded in 2004 by Jim Cogan OBE, an English teacher in Westminster who spent much of his life promoting voluntary work in Africa.

He came up with the idea after stopping to speak to a man stitching a football together on the side of a road in Tanzania. Mr Cogan passed away in 2007 but his work has been carried on. Alive & Kicking uses business practice to be sustainable, ploughing any profit generated back into the workshops. It is hoped the two existing factories and the upcoming one in Ghana will all be self-sustainable in five years.

Hundreds of thousands of balls have been made. About half are sold for retail in various stores in Africa, while ten per cent are donated to children in African schools and projects which cannot afford to buy sports equipment. The remainder are sold to to corporate social responsibility departments who use them in their social outreach programmes in Africa. A synthetic range of balls will appeared exclusively in John Lewis stores here, marking Alive & Kicking's first foray into the British retail market. Will Prochaska, chief executive at Alive & Kicking, pointed out the importance of using local leather to make the balls. 'If you take a ball which is typically sold in the UK for use on grass pitches and play with it in Africa, it will last about a week. They just burst very quickly,’ he said.

'We're buying leather from a number of tanneries in Kenya and Zambia at the moment. The leather’s local. We’ve built a reputation for durability which is really important for us and for the people who use our balls over in Africa. Our balls have gone to every country in Africa, which is fantastic.’ The balls are printed with messages about HIV/Aids so they can be used as an entry point for discussions with young people in Africa about health.

'On its own, the message will do very little,' said Mr Prochaska. ‘But in the hands of a skilled teacher or football coach, he can use that to grab the child’s attention. When you hold a ball in front of a group of 20 children they can’t look at anything else. They’re used in HIV/Aids drills, football drills that are designed to encourage young people to understand how HIV works in the body, how it can be contracted and how it can be avoided.’ The factory in Ghana created 50 more jobs for local people – 150 are already employed at the plants in Kenya and Zambia. New staff were employed and trained and the first balls rolled off the production line in January 2013.

Jobs were given to people who are disabled and young people who have never found work before. ‘I think the most tangible impact is on the employment side,’ said Mr Prochaska. ‘Each job at Alive & Kicking typically supports a group of dependents of six people. The impact on the economy has been significant. There is a broader impact which shows that top quality goods can be manufactured in Africa and they don’t all have to come from the Far East. And I think that’s a growing story about the continent really, and I like to think that we’re at the forefront of that.’ Francis Kithuka, a stock controller at Alive & Kicking’s Kenya factory in Nairobi, said working there had ‘changed his life’.

He started as a stitcher when the factory opened in 2004 and was quickly promoted to a new role, training hundreds of people how to stitch the balls properly. His salary paid for his paralysed father’s medical bills and allowed his brothers, sisters and his daughter to attend school. He travelled to the charity’s new factory in Ghana to train 30 stitchers. Henry Winter, football correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, is a trustee at Alive & Kicking.

He told Metro: 'I got involved through my old English teacher at Westminster, Jim Cogan. When he called I thought I must be 20 years late with an essay on Milton but he needed some advice on football. ‘ The idea was simple: using leftover leather from shoe factories in Africa to make balls then stamped with HIV/Aid and Malaria warnings. These are then distributed in various parts of Africa. ‘ The impact is three-fold. Firstly, it gives kids access to durable footballs which do not puncture on being wellied into the nearest thorn bush and are cheaper than balls from the major manufacturers.

The second benefit is to raise awareness of HIV/Aids and malaria. Thirdly, the stitching centres obviously provide much-needed employment.' Go to Alive& for more informationFollow Alive & Kicking on Twitter @BallsForAfrica

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