LUSAKA, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- For many in developing countries, sport, particularly football which is popular in Africa, is not only seen as a way of keeping fit and staying alert but also as a means of getting out of the doldrums of poverty.
It is no wonder that it is the dream of many youngsters from the slums to become a football star one day. The idea is to have one and those around them live lives commensurate with the standards of civilized existence.
To community members in Chawama, a densely populated residential area in Zambia's capital Lusaka, football is more than just a healthy recreational activity. Football and sports in general are effective tools that are used to inculcate values and positive attitudes in children and young people and the general public.
For instance, Jack Chileshe Football Academy (JCA) has been working to address issues of juvenile delinquency and early and teen pregnancies in the slum area through its programs.
The academy recruits boys and girls from two slums within the area, namely, Kuku and Misisi, and encourages them to take part in its activities which involve sessions of team building acts and self-discipline techniques that encourage behavioral change.
The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to contribute to the reduction in drug abuse and teenage pregnancies in a community that is known to be a breeding ground for criminal elements.
"The (JCA) academy has taught me to be assertive and emotionally grounded. I am now able to focus even in my studies and other important aspects of my life because I have learned to manage time and associations better," said 15-year-old George Phiri.
What's more, community members who commended the academy for its efforts have pointed out that many children that take part in the academy's activities turn out well in terms of character and behavior because they have little or no time to engage in bad activities.
"Sports in generally require that one develops an element of self-discipline and a good attitude. It is for this reason that the majority if not all persons that have passed through the hands of JCA generally stand out among their peers in terms of exhibiting sound character and good behavior," said Misisi Community School Coordinator Faston Mwanza.
Mwanza also pointed out that the JCA has demonstrated that sport can be used to create stronger and more resilient communities.
"It is important to note that these youngsters come from very vulnerable households. The temptation to engage in illicit and damaging activities is very high. The academy not only serves as a safe space, but also provides a platform for them to become better citizens who go on to influence their communities in positive ways," said JCA head coach Andrew Chama.
He further shared that the academy has been working in collaboration with a number of non-profit making organizations to help reduce gender-based violence in the community.
The aim of these programs has been to empower youngsters with knowledge and skills on how to avert and manage conflicts as well as how to be responsible citizens.
He was quick to mention that not everyone that has passed through the academy has ended up being a professional football player.
"At JCA we strive to build a person's character through football. We believe that a desirable character and a good attitude are more important because they help one become a better person in life," he said.