'For us it's about empowering young girls'

Fatma El-kindiy talks to World Rugby about 'A Try for Change', a pilot programme in Botswana designed to encourage young women to pick up a rugby ball.

Fatma El-kindiy admits there is little history of women’s rugby in Botswana. 

There is an eight-team women’s league which organises sevens and 10s tournaments, and features the Gaborone Hogs El-kindiy first represented in 2015, but awareness of the female game is low. 

“No one talks about it much,” she told World Rugby. 

“A lot of people still don’t know that women actually play rugby and it’s contact rugby that we play.”

El-kindiy is determined to change all that, though, and alongside Gorata Kgathi has created a new programme – ‘A Try for Change’ – which they hope will empower more women and young girls to pick up a rugby ball.

Having been invited onto the Botswana Rugby Union’s (BRU) women’s committee when it was set up earlier this year, the pair were tasked with finding initiatives to drive youth participation.

The request was music to the ears of El-kindiy who had already formulated the idea for ‘A Try for Change’ but had been searching for the platform on which to deliver it.

In August, the BRU sanctioned a pilot of the programme which was held over eight weeks at a school in the country’s capital, Gaborone.

Empowering girls in Botswana

El-kindiy and Kgathi had interest from 47 girls but the majority found it difficult to commit to the weekly sessions, which were held after school. 

Eighteen 12 and 13-year-olds completed the course, which featured classroom as well as on-pitch sessions designed to help them “become courageous, brave and confident”.

“For us it’s [about] empowering the young girls,” El-kindiy explained. 

“We had the classroom sessions because we could get to know them better. For example, if we were talking about confidence, we would talk about confidence in a classroom session where they would have drama; they would act it out and write essays and open up about what makes them not confident in life. 

“And then when we talked to them, because they were young girls aged 12 and 13, they lacked confidence in their bodies, in their colours and some couldn’t read, couldn’t write. 

“So, we were helping with those areas to encourage them to come out of their shells. 

“When we did that and took that onto the rugby field they were happier and ready to play this game without being bashed or feeling that they can’t do anything in rugby as much as they can’t do anything in life. 

“So, it was something that they were going to take in years to come.”

Putting on the course did not pass without its challenges. It was not until the final weeks of the programme that El-kindiy secured sponsors for playing kit and boots while the facilities at the school were limited.

However, the programme received a positive reception from participants, teachers and the union, and plans are already afoot to run ‘A Try for Change’ again in the new year.

“The Botswana union right now is happy with the programme,” El-kindiy said. 

“We have coaches who are now interested in the coaching and helping with the coaching of the programme.

Putting smiles on young faces

“With the students themselves, when the programme ended they were really sad because they got to open up more. 

“The teachers don’t really talk to them much about confidence or being brave. All they do is teach them the basics of the curriculum of the school, so when we got involved they were happier to talk and be open.”

El-kindiy, who is currently studying for her Level 2 coaching badge, is hopeful that ‘A Try for Change’ will have similar success in schools throughout Botswana.

The Kenya-born coach is also keen to involve the country’s women’s national team players in future iterations of the programme. 

But, for El-kindiy, success will never be measured in terms of success on a rugby pitch alone.

“I am happy just to see the smiles on the girls’ faces actually,” she explained. 

“For me it’s just giving back the passion of rugby and giving back to the community. 

“That’s all I actually ever wanted to do and if it goes bigger and better that will be my pleasure to just see happy smiles, happy people.”

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