Changing Children's Lives Through Football

By Ross Cooper, Teach First Alumnus, and Yolkey Rai, Teach For Nepal Alumna

The Huracan Foundation (THF), founded by Teach First alumnus Henry May, acts as an accelerator for projects run by Teach For All teachers and alumni that use football as a catalyst for learning. Since 2011, over 1,000 students have benefited from projects led by teachers across the Teach For All global network. Teach For Nepal alumna Yolkey Rai and Teach First alumnus Ross Cooper are two of The Huracan Foundation’s 2020/21 project leaders and, in the following conversation, they discuss what drew them to THF, the projects they’re leading, and the way THF is supporting them:

Ross Cooper (RC): I think myself and Yolkey were both drawn to football projects because we both believe football (or soccer) has a very special unifying quality — beyond language, background, culture, and ideology. It seems almost outlandish to describe such a simple pursuit as so powerful but, after all, only one sport is described affectionately the world over as “the beautiful game.” 

Yolkey Rai (YR): Yes, football has given me so many memories. From the joys of watching the World Cup with my entire family on a tiny television in a single room, to the disheartening memories of being told that I should not play football because I am a girl. Unfortunately, this is the kind of narrative my society has but I strongly believe my students should not have to share the same experiences I had relating to football and sport. Time has moved on and we should be more progressive. During my Teach For Nepal fellowship, I found that many girls were dropping out of school and getting married at a very young age. I felt this was a serious problem we needed to address, so, as a very unique solution in our community, we founded football integrated education as our solution.

RC: I couldn’t agree more. As a teacher working in a school serving a low-income community in north west London, I always strive to give my students positive experiences beyond the classroom. Providing opportunities for pupils to play safely and constructively has given me some of my most cherished memories in teaching. Whenever I am in the middle of one of those tough teaching days, I try to remember those students previously at risk of permanent suspension, who have turned their academic lives around thanks to the resilience and team spirit that football can foster.

What we both recognize however, is that it can be a challenge to support activities like this for larger groups of students consistently. Teaching is a profession I love dearly, but all teachers will know just how thinly we are spread sometimes. Luckily, both of our outlooks on this front are looking much more positive thanks to the support and funding we are receiving from the Huracan Foundation. We have recently finished our THF training (remotely of course) and both of us have been incredibly inspired by our Teach For All network peers and THF project leaders. Although all of us project leads are from four different continents and each face challenging local issues, there is a lot we have in common. It seems we all want to use football to build the skills of our students and keep them in school. The pandemic has caused a lot of hardship for families and young people and I am hoping my school football club has a role to play in supporting my pupils through very difficult times.

YR: The Huracan training sessions we experienced supported us in many different ways. Amongst other things, they helped us to plan our coaching sessions, understand our leadership traits, and train us to look after the participants in our care using clear safeguarding procedures. We also had the opportunity to hear from former Huracan Project Leaders. They told us about their journeys, the challenges they faced, and the impact they have made. The highlight of the week was hearing from a panel of inspiring individuals at the “More Than A Game” webinar. We both were especially captivated by JJ Roble’s story of her journey to becoming the first Muslim female referee in the UK and can see our students also being incredibly inspired by her story. 

The first-ever online “Kick-Off Week” run by the Huracan Foundation provided a complete package in terms of support and was really successful in bringing all of the participants together in an extended support network for delivering social change. During the course of this year we will continue to receive support from The Huracan Foundation through funding and kits (uniforms) for our children, access to the Huracan Foundation Academy (an online training course for those running Football For Good projects), the THF mentor scheme, and by having access to the Huracan Foundation’s global community who will help to share our story of the impact our own project has.

RC: I know the only thing left for us to do is to get started with our students and we very much hope that you're able to follow the progress of all of our projects online and through social media (check us out on Instagram at @huracannorthala and @huracanfoundation) and visit www.thehuracanfoundation.org if you would like to learn more about The Huracan Foundation and its work.