It began in the late 1990s in Burkina Faso. Like a dream, a desire to give back and help those who themselves never would get a chance to participate in the Gothia Cup. The idea was to move the meeting platform that the Gothia Cup offers to another country, somewhere in the world where the need is perhaps greatest. The facility in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, became a model facility with 2-3 football pitches and a club house that held both locker rooms as offices and meeting halls. At most, we had over 1000 students who played football while participating in social activities in order to learn more about democracy, equality and prevention of HIV / AIDS.
The Burkina Faso project gave us a clear insight into the enormous differences between growing up in a poor African country compared to a rich European country. At the same time, we learned, and became infected by the immense joy that ”our” African youth showed in everyday life. And the gratitude our project met.
In 2005 it was time to move on. Together with the Swedish Missionary Church we were able inaugurate a similar facility in Congo-Brazzaville. A country that in many ways different from Burkina Faso. In Congo, we met a country that just was about to get up from a terrible civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. A country whose young people were suffering from war neurosis or, in many cases, themselves had belonged to one of the militias who committed the crimes. We met children and young people from different ethnic groups. Groups that under no circumstances wanted, or dared, to meet and socialize. Gothia Village in Brazzaville came to change all that. Here they found a safe sanctuary and a place to meet. Here one could forget the miseries of war, if only for a moment. Slowly it came back to life again.
The next step was taken as late as November this year. The third Gothia Village was inaugurated in the small town Kimpese, 40 km southwest of the capital, Kinshasa, in the ”big” Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo. The area where the operations are conducted and where the facility is located is on a high plateau with small, very typical African villages as neighbors around. You know immediately that this is the real Africa, the Africa that so few portrays today. But we are also aware of the great poverty, lack of jobs and lack of sustainability. Nothing has really happened in the 50 years since the colonial power Belgium left the country. Everything is still in the small scale. The few platelets fields that are grown in this country so fertile is enough just to feed the family or the little village that is usually ground platelet. All trade is still conducted in the local market, where market stalls selling into everything from fresh vegetables or second hand clothing to automobiles and tractor tires.
Almost all children spend a number of years in school. Just so long to learn to read and write. Higher education than that is a rare luxury. While one can meet groups of young people gathered around the blackboard in the school yard to solve the most complex mathematical problems. Interest, talents and desire for education is there but so very few are given the opportunity.
In this environment, we feel that we can make a difference. We feel we can provide a meaningful work and so little seeds and spread some ideas on how a better future might look like and perhaps go to. At the same time, we have respect for the enormous problems facing the country and how the huge need for help really is. We work on a small scale with a hundred boys and girls. And we know that for these, we mean something.
Football is the common denominator when 35,000 young people meet in Gothenburg for Gothia Cup. Similarly, football is the common denominator when 500 young people meet in Congo in the Gothia Village. In both places, the meeting itself creates knowledge, understanding and confidence. We are actually very similar. Even if the conditions are so substantially different. Meeting places must always be present. Whether we are in Gothenburg or in the small village Kimpese in southern Congo.