Basotho coaches come to the UK for knowledge and cultural exchange

In May 2018, we were fortunate enough to be able to bring three of our Lesotho team over to the UK to meet with our partners and spend time with schools, rugby clubs and charities on a cultural and knowledge exchange, and to see how things are run in the UK.

It turns out inviting people who live in Africa to the UK is pretty difficult. The visa application form alone would filter out many a worthy visitor. Nonetheless, we finally had everything lined up: permission to enter, flights booked and paid for (with thanks to the Government of Lesotho), itinerary for the visit, hosts for the night.

Thanks to some awkward scheduling on the part of Rugby Afrique, our Country Director, Litsitso Motseremeli, would be joining for the first ten days, with Academy (and National Team) Coach Roy and FLR President Fetang Selialia joining for the second ten days following the Stallion’s (Lesotho’s national team) first Africa Bronze Cup campaign in Ghana.

After a night in London, enough time for Litsitso to pick up the basics of using an Oyster card and standing on the right, he was packed up onto a bus and sent down to Wales. Wales and Lesotho share an important connection, having officially twinned in 1985. They are the same size, with similar populations. Both share a larger neighbor with a tendency to dictate overshadow politics, and both love rugby. The Lesotho Rugby Academy is of course a programme implemented by Dolen Cymru – the Wales Lesotho Link, of which Prince Harry (son of the Prince of Wales) is a patron.

Over the course of the next week Litsitso spent time in St Davids and in Cardiff, two towns that have come together to offer incredibly generous support to the Academy programme over the last couple of years. All of us at the LRA were absolutely overwhelmed and incredibly grateful for the hospitality shown to Litsitso during this time, and really proud of the relationships Litsitso built during this time as an ambassador for the programme, the sport and his country. He’s told me he’ll never forget it, and it was one of the happiest times of his life (and his first time on a boat). In his words:

“I enjoyed the rest of days I spend in Wales as a whole, every moment was special, my visit in Principality Stadium, watching Cardiff Blues with Club Rugby management, meeting with Wales Rugby Union President, watching Cardiff Rugby final live, meeting with Lord Ellis Thomas, Minister of Tourism, culture and Sports; and my first experience in boat tour.  But my first visit at St Davids secondary school, when those kids were real touched by the story I told them about how hard other kids acquired education, that they even go to school without eating, not by choice, and some go to school bare footed.  And of course, people attended good bye dinner reacted towards helping Lesotho Rugby Academy positively.”

Reunited in London with his countrymen, Litsitso, Fetang and Roy spent a week with the School of Hard Knocks in London. For anyone unfamiliar with this impressive charity, it uses rugby as an anchor for some of the toughest kids in London schools. We always expected our Basotho coaches to benefit from these sessions, learning both rugby drills, but also ways of engaging with problematic kids. We weren’t quite prepared for the impact the coaches would have on the kids they were meeting:

Every day began the same, the kids would arrive, their attention would be momentarily captured by the arrival of three African men in their midst, but soon they would revert to norm. As Fetang put it: “Hey, I’ve never seen such naughty kids”. And it’s true, for all Lesotho’s problems, discipline and respect in schools is absolute. But when our coaches began to tell their story, the kids started to sit up and pay attention. Despite these kids’ troubles and relative deprivation, they had never gone to school hungry because there was no food in the house; never gone to school without shoes on their feet. I believe they started to see and be grateful for the advantages they had in life. And the bond they formed with our coaches – showing them where to sit in the cafeteria, getting their food for them, hugging them, thanking them for coming, and even a tear in a few eyes when they said goodbye – this was behaviour even the School of Hard Knocks hadn’t seen before. It’s an incredibly powerful and touching story of two very distant life stories coming together through fate and chance, and finding a common thread stronger than steel: one forged of compassion, empathy, humanity.

The guys had a chance to fit in a little bit of sightseeing with a rooftop bus tour of London, Saracens demolish Wasps at Allianz Park, and a visit to the RFU at Twickenham. The visit culminated with a fundraising dinner at HAC, with the friends and patrons of the Academy programme and special guests Dan Norton and Ian Robertson and a chance for the coaches to meet some of the people that have been supporting them for the past few years. It was a hugely successful night with some incredibly generous donations and pledges that will secure the programme for the next year, so a massive thank you to everyone who came along.

Dan AylwardComment