Magazine article New African

Craig Bellamy the Man in Love with Sierra Leone

Magazine article New African

Craig Bellamy the Man in Love with Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

Before his first visit to Sierra Leone in 2007, the Welsh football international, Craig Bellamy, only knew that the country existed and it was somewhere in West Africa. His visit to a friend working in Sierra Leone at the time left "a very big impression" on him. More than anything else, it inspired him to set up the Craig Bellamy Foundation with the first football academy ever in the country. Today, the academy and boarding school is a symbol of hope for Sierra Leonean boys who see their future in the world's most popular game. On his fifth visit to the country recently, the Welshman told our Freetown correspondent, Edward Kargbo, how far he had come.

* How was the idea of setting up the Craig Bellamy Foundation conceived?

It all came from my first visit here. I just had a look round the country--it was just nice to see a whole different culture. I have been open to travelling but when you travel with football all you get to see is the plane, the hotel, coach, stadium and back--all you see is from the window. So it was nice to see a different culture and a completely different way of life and just absorb it. It left a very big impression on me. It inspired me more than anything.

* Did you have any ties with Sierra Leone before your first visit?

No, I didn't. I obviously knew where Sierra Leone was. My friend had been working here for a couple of weeks, and I just came here to see what it was all like, and it fitted into the time off I had. I spent some time with him, and I have had a feeling for the country since.

* What was it like to get the whole outfit up and running? Why was it initially run by people from Ghana?

It's been a lot of hard work. I employed people with expertise in Ghana because of the way they run the academy [Right to Dream] there, but I have also understood that it can't be run from Ghana. It took me some time to appreciate or understand that it was still going to be run by people who weren't even in Sierra Leone. That created some problems and it set us back a bit. But we have sort of got on top of it now. The people who I deal with day-to-day are very involved; they live it. So you are able to get good feedback and a good running of the academy.

* I can see you've gone so far setting up the football academy: there is a standard pitch, dormitory and classroom for the boys and a lot more. What's the feeling to see these structures in place now?

It has been great. The boys are still learning and I feel satisfied, I feel very proud but I don't want to get carried away by that. I want more and hopefully in a few more years, I will be even prouder.

* Let's talk about money. How do you get funds into the project?

It's my academy and it's my money. This has solely been my money. Recently, we've had a contract with Security Support Group International, who have been incredible to us. They believe in the opportunity the boys have been given and so they have helped with a bus, security for the building, and a generator. They have been our main sponsors, they have been just as passionate about this project as I am.

But as you see, the project--the pitch, the buildings, everything else--has come from me, it has all been my money. It is not for me, it is about giving kids the same opportunity I had.

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Just because I was born in a different country doesn't mean that every child should not get the opportunity I had. …

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