Monday, March 06, 2006

Sanctity in Rugby

I'm thinking of subbing this piece to a newspaper as a short story. I know of a newspaper who takes stuff like this.
Let me know what you think...

Rugby Dreams

By Daniel Sturgis

The charity kicked off a year ago, after raising enough money to build a school and a rugby field in the midst of an extremely poor Moroccan village. The school takes in children who can’t afford education, some of them from off the street. They can only play rugby if they attain good enough grades, so it keeps them motivated - striving to achieve the cherry on top of the cake, school being the cake.

In Canada, many kids say they hate school, but for kids too poor to attend, I imagine they dream about it.

Sunday mornings, I meet up with some friends and we drive to a poor village just outside of Rabat. The field is surrounded by a ten-foot-high, red concrete wall and we can see the kicking posts jutting out from a kilometre away. Outside the wall, to the left, is a dirt field with scattered garbage and wind-blown plastic bags. On the right is the school, a two-storey building. In front and behind the terrain is the village; a cluster of three-storey concrete buildings with electric cables streaming down the sides.

We arrive to see more than one-hundred children on the dirt field. They are separated into four groups. Youngins, early teens, older kids and the fourth group are girls, some of them wear the headscarves; all of the girls are older than twelve.

Younger girls sit on the big steps next to the field and watch. As do several mothers. Most, if not all, wearing headscarves and watching their children play together.
The field is dirt - it costs about $40,000 Canadian dollars to put grass down and maintain it, which is a massive sum for a poor school. But the charity is raising money from the older local players, charity dinners, as well as from French and Moroccan businesses. Within a year they hope to have raised enough to put grass down. The main priority however is keeping the school running.

In the summer, when the weather is really dry, the terrain becomes hard, like pavement, and scrapes players up when they fall. Fortunately, it's been raining lately and the terrain is softer.

The practice starts lightly and we work our way up to a full contact scrimmage; the men against the older boys. A couple of the boys have a lot of potential and are fast and agile.

Afterwards, the young and old join in the rugby tradition of post competition handshakes and backslapping, but my favourite part comes last. The younger children, more than fifty of them, swarm the older players, lifting them up one at a time and shouting, "Woooooo, ahhhhhhh."

The kids have the look in their eyes of pure joy, and it’s a charity I'm proud to be even the smallest part of. For me, it’s wonderful because it is completely done by volunteers. People who love the game, here and in France, have donated time and money to give these kids a chance. The Moroccan government has donated the land.

I'm sceptical about most charities in developing countries. A large chunk of their multi-million dollar budgets seem to pay six-figure salaries to a few ex-pats. But this charity, it's about kids playing. It's about their wide-eyed wonder when new shoes are given to them by some rugby team in France or England. It's about pulling things together and giving the gift of education first, and the love of the game second. But for the adults, like me, who come to play rugby. The cherry on top is the smiling and laughing children.

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