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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Out of Lewis and into Africa

This news post is almost 7 years old

Youngsters in Tanzanian villages are playing football in strips donated by a community wind farm charity

It’s an unlikely partnership but a tiny Scottish island has made lasting links with two villages in Tanzania in a bond that combines the best of Scottish social enterprise with international development.

And now youngsters in the Tanzanian villages are playing football in strips donated by a community wind farm charity.

Point and Sandwick Trust on the Isle of Lewis, which operates a three-turbine wind farm Beinn Ghrideag on the outskirts of Stornoway, donated a new set of strips to Point FC’s Under 18 team in June – strips which instantly brought them luck as they won the local Ladywell Cup on their first outing.

It was a donation that was also good news for other young football players on the other side of the world, as the redundant strips were taken out to Africa by Alasdair Nicholson who regularly goes to Tanzania to help develop local skills in community enterprise.

Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust were delighted to donate new strips to the Point Under 18 team, and even more delighted when they went on to win the Ladywell Cup on their first outing wearing the new strip.

“We are also very pleased that Alasdair was able to take full sets of strips out to local teams in Tanzania during his latest development trip there."

Alasdair, who has 30 years experience of community development and social enterprise, said it was great to see how happy the young players were to receive their strips — and to have been able to fulfil a promise he made on his last visit, when he was asked, “next time, can you bring some football strips?”

He had brought out two sets of old strips, so was able to help two teams, both in remote areas.

In one case, the strips went to the winning team playing a local friendly. The other set had already been pledged to a particular team — but they also laid on a game to mark the occasion.

Alasdair’s link to this part of Africa goes back to 2015 when he first went out to Tanzania on a voluntary trip with Raleigh International. That was a three-month trip and he has been back to Tanzania four times since then, although usually for just a few weeks at a time, in response to invitations as he got to know more and more people.

Alasdair, a founder member of Voluntary Action Scotland and key figure in the creation of Third Sector Hebrides, has been giving workshops on community enterprise, entrepreneurial skills and empowerment, with examples from Scotland to inspire the Tanzanians.

His examples included the creation of Point and Sandwick Trust’s wholly community owned wind farm, Beinn Ghrideag, and another example from Point: the creation of Buth an Rudha shop, cafe and community hub in the old Knock school.

“I was giving these as examples of what communities have done here, in Scotland, in the Highlands, as a bit of discussion because (in Tanzania) there are a lot of people who are obviously unemployed, there are lots of social issues and there’s a capacity for people to do a lot more themselves, as has been proven if you look back at what communities in Scotland have done,” he said.

These meetings would usually be outdoors and Alasdair remembers one being held literally under a mango tree. Another one, in a hall this time, was attended by around 300 people.

It’s a form of support work and is “always related to social enterprise or community development”.

In one of the villages where Alasdair gave out the strips, he was also helping them deal with the much more serious issue of how to fix the water systems that had failed.

He also spent time teaching another community group how to mediate over land disputes. “They were a wee bit like a common grazings committee,” he said.

The first team, the ones who got the old Point Rudhach strips, were the African Lions from Mahenge. “They were playing their nearest rivals and both teams were playing to get these shirts.

“They played very competitively, very entertainingly and in both cases some of them were playing in their bare feet because they didn’t have football shoes.

“When we started handing out the shirts to the team that won they immediately took off their existing kit and put on the Rudhach kit. They were obviously very pleased.”

The next team to benefit from the strips — Duncan Mackenzie Kitchen Centre ones, this time — were Kiogosi FC, from a village near Ifakara. Again they played “a competitive, combative game”, although they had been guaranteed the strips.

Alasdair said: “It’s not just the shirts. In a sense it’s saying to that community, you’re important, you can do things yourself. In that same community, I spent time in a workshop with them, responding to questions they had. In a sense the football was a way in but it wasn’t a thing by itself.”

Alasdair, who was awarded the MBE for services to the voluntary sector in the Western Isles, is modest about his contribution to Tanzania.

“I get some satisfaction in being able to use some of the skills I have in perhaps being able to make a difference in a small way to support others with community development.”

He added: “I think sharing is a good thing to do. We can learn from other countries and communities too, even if they are quite different from ourselves.”

In terms of community enterprise, Alasdair cited Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag as a “very ambitious” example, which had overcome a lot of barriers thanks to the determination of those involved — and their “ability to see that things can be done differently”.

Point and Sandwick Trust were at “the forefront of renewables,” he said, and had achieved “a tremendous amount.”

That said, Alasdair, who lives in Back, remarked: “The next time I go back (to Tanzania) I’ll have to maybe balance the equation and take some Back football strips as well…”