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International Inspiration

Priming 12 Million Young Leaders


Priming 12 Million Young Leaders


In Bangladesh thousands of children drown every year in monsoon floods. But one Olympic legacy program is teach youngsters to swim, and to save themselves when swelling rivers inundate their homes.



Priming 12 Million Young Leaders

By Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 497 )

Bangladesh experiences massive flooding every year during the monsoon season, which claims the lives of some 17,000 children per year. There is such a high number of drowning deaths because most Bangladeshi children cannot swim and are therefore helpless when the floods arrive.

With every child that learns to swim, the monsoon floods are likely to take fewer young lives.

In 2009 International Inspiration decided to teach Bangladeshi children to swim.

"It's an easy project to explain, because we immediately saw a very pressing need," says Sir Keith Mills, deputy chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, pointing at a photograph. The picture shows five Bangladeshi children taking swimming lessons in a pond.

The swimming lessons are Mills' favorite story, because, he says, he truly believes in the impact of the program and he has seen tangible results.

To inspire and help young people through sports is the core value that Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement, had hoped for the Olympic Games to achieve. And one key reason behind London's success at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Singapore in 2005 with its bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games was that the city pledged to do its best to inspire the younger generation.

The seven-year-long International Inspiration Program, launched in 2007, has put that pledge into action. It is also the largest program in Olympic history that a host city has staged to motivate young people to get involved in sports.

The London Organizing Committee has pledged 40 million pounds, some NT$1.9 billion, for three-year educational training programs in twenty developing countries including Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Jordan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Half of this sum is shouldered by the British government, while the other half is funded by private donations. Mills, who is in charge of the program, has been lobbying large corporations and rich soccer clubs for substantial amounts, while chipping in one million pounds himself. Ninety percent of the targeted 40 million pounds has already been collected.

Leaving aside funding, International Inspiration brings together the London Organising Committee, the British Foreign Office, the British Council, the United Nations, the governments of other nations and non-governmental organizations in close cooperation. Together they diagnose the most pressing problems that children face in 20 different countries and then develop sporting activities that contribute to solving these problems.

By training teachers and coaches, the program hopes, for instance, to deliver messages through sports such as the prevention of HIV, teen gang involvement and contagious diseases, or to encourage girls to be more assertive and bold.

In India, International Inspiration runs a 4 million pound program which aims to improve physical education in schools and boost the participation of female students. As a result, the Indian government was motivated to commit another 400 million pounds to expand the scope of the project.

The Rio 2016 Organizing Committee has already promised that it will continue International Inspiration.

Youngsters worship sports idols, so who would be better suited to get the Olympic message across? The London Organization Committee has asked British soccer legend David Beckham to play soccer with youngsters in Zimbabwe. Retired heptathlete Denise Lewis, who won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, travelled to India for the program to share her experiences with community sports coaches.

A short video of Lewis talking to Indian children and encouraging them to get involved in sports has become the most persuasive publicity video for the program.

With the program the London Organising Committee is reaching out to some 12 million children and teenagers in 20 countries. But what is more important for Britain is that the program sows the seeds for cultivating 130,000 young leaders.

"You can imagine those young sports leaders are the most amazing and special people in their countries, and they will lead their countries one day," Mills predicts.

What Mills does not mention is that these up-and-coming Third World leaders have already been instilled with a positive and admiring attitude toward Britain. Crammed into a small office, the staff of twenty in charge of International Inspiration has already won Britain the friendship of the next generation.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz