FITR – Female Inspiration Through Rugby

From October 2016, ATLAS (a Foundation that works to support to people around the world through the power of the game rugby) have been supporting TRT in a joint venture with Inspiring Women (I.W.). This initiative is known as FITR – Female Inspiration Through Rugby.

The FITR programme aims to provide positive personal, social and developmental opportunities, activities and support to young women and girls aged 13-18, initially in Zimbabwe, but with scope to expand to Kenya, Zambia and Uganda. Whilst sport provides the vehicle for engaging participants, the objectives and outcomes are firmly centred on female empowerment.

Better jobs and Healthier Futures

By introducing Tag Rugby, girls are inspired to play sport and to establish strong supportive team bonds. The confidence this gives them allows them to take on board the additional teaching of the programme, specifically in sexual health and careers guidance, and to share this knowledge when back in their communities. In turn, this plays a part in reducing teenage pregnancy, HIV, and school drop out. It also increases the potential for girls to get better jobs and have healthier futures.

In 2016, former England Rugby Captain Catherine Spencer (Spence) – Atlas Foundation Champion, and founder of I.W. – travelled to Harare in Zimbabwe. Here she spent a week with the TRT Zimbabwe staff, and volunteers, who had been putting in the groundwork for the launch of the FITR programme.

Three-day symposium for 300 girls

During her time in Zimbabwe, Spence attended a three-day symposium for 300 girls and young women from across Zimbabwe. She was joined by Zimbabwe FITR Patron, Lilian Mbayiwa, at one of the workshops – on the use of social media – and the views and opinions shared provided a huge reality check. Many of the girls were actually frightened to go online, believing the internet to be solely used for negative purposes.

Mass Tag Rugby game

One morning saw all 300 girls take part in a mass “introduction to Tag Rugby”. The symposium organisers were curious to see how so many girls could be engaged at the same time in a sport they had never seen or played before. Within minutes, the FITR Mentors were flexing their coaching skills, and the playing fields were full of girls running, laughing and learning!

The programme so far
  • TRT Zimbabwe has selected a pool of 10 FITR Mentors to launch the programme. These girls will have a number of roles moving forward – primarily involving regular contact with the tag aged girls, coaching tag and contact rugby to the secondary school aged girls and, most importantly, facilitating meetings and workshops that address a range of female centric topics.
  • The 10 FITR Mentors are volunteering in the high-density suburbs of Harare. The group are aged between 18 and 30, with a mix of rugby and non-rugby backgrounds. They have all been trained as mentors through local Zimbabwean FITR partner, Girls Legacy.
  • The FITR mentors have already become active in TRT Community Clubs around Harare, as well as attending weekly Girls Legacy sessions in Domboshava and Glen View.
Current FITR Findings
  • Just as sports needs a field, we have learnt that for many of the topics that need to be discussed with 13-18 year old girls it is really important to have somewhere private and quiet to talk. Many girls gave feedback that they are too scared to discuss anything in their community for fear of being overheard, and then victimised for their views or comments.
  • Further focus needs to be given to girls leaving school aged 16 – these girls are being lost from rugby and education.
  • Girls are scared of using the internet – they are worried that they are automatically going to view pornographic material simply by accessing the internet. The use of the internet as an important learning tool does not seem to be apparent.

The Rebels and the Titans

In the UK we deliver an accredited programme of skills development to young people from deprived communities. Many of the young people we work with have become disillusioned with the mainstream education system, and the TRT format provides an accessible, engaging way to develop employable, transferrable skills, whilst having fun.

In 2011 the Trust began working with two inner-city youth groups: a group of six boys from Coram’s Fields in Camden, and a group of seven girls from Hackney Quest, Hackney. The two groups were dubbed the Tag Rugby Rebels and Titans respectively.

The Rebels and the Titans took part in an 18-month programme of leadership training – supported by TRT volunteers and mentors from a variety of industry backgrounds. Throughout the training process the two groups worked with local sports groups for children and young people, sharing what they had learned as coaches and referees. They also ran a series of fundraising activities, supported by TRT, and the money raised enabled them to take their skills to the more challenging environment of Zambia.

Here, despite the linguistic and cultural barriers, they coached and mentored groups of local children. Their time in Zambia culminated in the organisation of a local school’s Tag Rugby Tournament. This required a great deal of determination and resourcefulness – teaching large groups of children how to play the game, training them, and managing the final event – from venue set up, to refereeing, to prize giving.

Once back in the UK, the Rebels and the Titans were encouraged to continue this work by mentoring the next generation of Young Leaders in their youth groups, and this model of transferring new skills has proved most effective. It’s clear that the impact of going to Zambia has lasted well beyond the duration of the visit.

Team Talk Kenya

Team Talk is a fun, educational project run by TRT in Kenya. Put quite simply, the principles of Tag Rugby are applied to educative workshops for young girls and boys – exploring communication and goal-setting skills within an open and friendly learning atmosphere.

Having experienced working together as equals within the structure of Tag Rugby training, young people feel more able to freely discuss contemporary issues that affect their daily lives.

The curriculum is based largely around leadership, covering:

  • Self-discovery and self-esteem
  • Strengths and values
  • Gender balance
  • Communication and decision-making
  • Goal setting

In the Summer of 2015, Team Talk was run in two locations in Kenya, with over 300 children and young people taking part. For the children participating, the ability to work as a team translates perfectly to the importance of supporting each other in everyday school life.

Through Team Talk, young people are able to improve their understanding of a bigger society – their confidence grows, and long-term aspirations are raised.