By Christopher Ward, Point Park News Service:
The Cameroon Football Development Program started with just a bag of soccer balls and a couple of volunteer coaches, whose goal was to teach life skills to the youth through the game of soccer.
Justin Forzano, who founded the organization in 2010, first traveled to Cameroon in 2006 with the University of Dayton Engineers in Technology and Humanitarian Opportunities of Service Program. After that trip he traveled back over the consecutive summers to design and construct a gravity-fed water supply system in Barombi Mbo, a village near the city of Kumba.
“When I first went over to Cameroon in 2006 it was obviously very humbling,” Forzano said. “You see people living in poverty and living in really different situations, but they are still happy and find joy in life. It was obvious that I was the foreigner, but everyone went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable, which was pretty amazing.”
The CameroonFDP is a nonprofit organization that is based in Kumba, Cameroon, and Pittsburgh, Pa. with the mission to improve the wellbeing of the youth in Africa. The organization has around 500 kids registered in the program in Cameroon.
After graduation, Forzano moved to Pittsburgh for a job and began to implement his program in the Pittsburgh community.
Forzano heard about the Sports for Development Program while watching the World Cup in 2010 and was inspired to start a program in Cameroon that could help the youth through soccer.
“It’s all about improving the quality of life and connecting people with opportunities,” Forzano said. “What we find is that when people are comfortable on the soccer field, they’re more open to learning about new things, whether it be about important health issues or social and life skills that could help them exceed in the classroom and the community.”
CameroonFDP works with the Ministry of Sport and is a part of Street Football World, which is the international network of football organizations. In addition, they are supported by FIFA Football Hope, in which FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, granted them a $60,000 loan for 2016-2017.
“The grant from FIFA is a good chunk of our operating budget,” said Javier Janik, who is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the CameroonFDP. “We certainly wouldn’t have the reach that we have without FIFA Football Hope. They are our biggest sponsors, both in terms of the name and dollars. It definitely gives us name recognition.”
Janik, who has been a part of CameroonFDP for about a year, traveled to Cameroon along with directors this past summer to see first-hand the work that was being done on the ground in Cameroon.
“While in Cameroon, we did a lot of stuff in the office, where members of the board of directors would sit around with the CameroonFDP staff and shoot ideas back and forth,” Janik said. “The board of directors shared more of a business side of things, while the CameroonFDP staff shared how they run their day-to-day operations.”
During Janik’s stay in Cameroon, he became close with a team in the community called Legend FC. Janik was impressed with how Coach Kama Kingsly instructed his practices.
“Coach Kingsly was honestly one of the more-involved and better coaches that CameroonFDP is affiliated with,” Janik said. “He does an absolutely fantastic job running his sessions, covering topics ranging from AIDS awareness to gender equity. He does not only a great job of teaching those topics, but getting the players to be engaged and having them discuss their own ideas.”
While in Cameroon, Janik also noticed the vast difference of football culture from coaching soccer to youths in Pittsburgh compared to watching practices in Cameroon.
“Everywhere in the world, essentially, soccer is the number one sport,” Janik said. “With traveling to Cameroon, I noticed that the kids were intensive and engaged. They participated in a lot of the discussions and I think a large part of that is because they are on the football pitch. They are in a place that they know and are comfortable with.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community holds an after-school program at Arsenal Elementary in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Lucas Godinho is an instructor for the program, and he tries to incorporate a motto that was developed in Cameroon to his coaching methods.
“We have a motto called ‘plus seven’ where we try to incorporate educational games into the soccer session,” Godhino said. “For example, every session we have a different topic. Last session our topic was setting goals, so every player would set a goal and throughout drills we would ask them what did they learn from the drill and how does that relate with their goal.”
Godhino has been working with CameroonFDP for two years now and says that he has learned a lot from Forzano.
“Forzano was a really good mentor for me when it came to coaching kids and helping them learn the concepts,” Godhino said. “He’s very dedicated. The amount of effort that he puts into this project is very encouraging.”
CameroonFDP is in its sixth year of operation and Forzano hopes that this movement can go beyond just Cameroon and Pittsburgh.
“We want to develop a model that could transform grassroots youth football across Africa,” Forzano said. “We want to take it across Africa, maybe even the world.”