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Letters from Claudine André 3: Youth Football – 'The Basankusu Bonobos!'

FROM THE ARCHIVES - 2008: In Claudine André's previous post, she describes her negotiations with the Ilonga Mpôo, who offer parts of their sacred land for Ekolo ya Bonobo in exchange for government representation and other resources. Here, she shares her excitement at supporting a local youth football ("soccer" in the US) team.


In Basankusu there are few sports accessible apart from street football. Children make their footballs using the white sap of the rubber trees from an old abandoned plantation. The balls of natural rubber are blown up by mouth and tightly sealed. They are very solid and can last several years! Alas, the national championship requires the “international standards'' – football shirts, shorts, shin pads, socks and boots.

The founder of the EFOBA (the football school of Basankusu that has one of the 12 football teams in the district), decided to create the football team in order to get the youths involved in something once they left secondary school. I had been invited to go and meet the team and give them a presentation to increase their awareness about bonobos, a meeting that led to the creation of a group of “messengers” spreading the word! But I could see that these messengers also hoped that if Les Amis des Bonobos du Congo (ABC) was settling in an office in Basankusu, then maybe they might have a chance of finding a sponsor.


During a later stopover in Paris, I went to meet a sponsor who gave us T-shirts and water bottles. But we still had the rest of the equipment to find! Alain Tixier, the director of the feature film “Bonobos,” spoke to his contacts who pledged to try to get a first aid kit from the [city of] Melun football squad. (Isn’t that where Claude Makélelé, the famous [Congolese] football player for the French National team started?) The rest of the equipment, including the printing of the educational slogan onto the team’s T-shirts, would be taken on by a project funded by a benefactor in the United States. The colours were chosen: Green for the forest and black for the bonobo.


Overjoyed by the good news, the “Basankusu Bonobos,” as they are now known, went on

to win the first round. In the championship they beat the other 11 teams to

become the district champions! They then had to go on to Bumba for the provincial selection.


Alas, moving a whole team and their trainers, even by pirogue -- an eight day trip to

Bumba, through Mbandaka -- without another reliable source of funds other than hoping on the goodness of a few well-off people... Pierrot rolled his eyes behind his glasses. I was already dreaming of seeing the “Basankusu Bonobos” champions of Équateur [Province]... and perhaps even of the Congo!!! And with that, the word “bonobo” would be shown proudly throughout the territory...


We returned to Lola full of fresh memories of our time spent in Basankusu, but also

with a long list of important things to do before we go back again at the end of the month.

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