Hammers aid for Africa

West Ham United have teamed up with MP Alastair Burt to provide funding and equipment to a football coaching scheme in Rwanda.

The club has donated a dozen replica shirts and 100 footballs to Project Umubano, which assists youngsters living in the central African nation. Project Umubano - 'Neighbourhood' in English - is being run in conjunction with the country's FA, the Federation Rwandaise de Football Association.

Following a sale of 2008/09 season training kit to the club's staff, West Ham United head of retail Tam Lever also handed over a cheque for £1,286 to the project.

Burt, the Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, an FA qualified coach and striker in the House of Commons football team, first visited Rwanda two years ago.

The Bury supporter will return to the country's capital, Kigali, on Saturday, taking with him West Ham shirts, footballs and money to be used to buy equipment and kit for players and coaches.

Rwanda is today recovering from years of civil war during which hundreds of thousands of people were killed or displaced, and Burt believes the game of football can play an influential role in the country's renaissance.

"Rwanda is a country with a terrible history but a great future," said Burt. "Rebuilding Rwanda is something the whole world has been concerned with.

"Three years ago, my colleagues in Parliament put together a project to go to Rwanda and do a series of things, including rebuilding a mission, teaching and providing healthcare in rural areas. Because of my interest in football, I was asked to go out and do something with children and use football, which is the international language.

"With the support of the Football Association, I went out and worked with coaches there, running a very simple course and distributing kit around the country.

"I am now going back with Les Howie, the FA's National Director of Grassroots Coaching, and FA qualified coach Gavin Step and we're going to run higher grade courses for coaches to help them to improve their skills. We're then going to distribute kit, including West Ham shirts and footballs, to around 1,500 children across the country.

"Footballs are really scarce in Rwanda. Everywhere you go in the country you see rudimentary football pitches, but the children don't always have a ball to play with. They will use virtually anything and make it into a ball shape, whether it be plastic bags or pieces of rubber that they can tie together. To be able to replace the makeshift balls with proper footballs will make a real difference."

Aside from West Ham, Project Umubano has also received support from the charity KitAid, which has provided more than 500 unwanted England shirts and sweatshirts.

Lever said the club was delighted to be able to contribute to the Umubano Project.

"We were originally contacted by Mr Burt and were only too happy to provide six West Ham home shirts for a team in Rwanda," said Lever. "When we received photographs of the young footballers in action, we noticed that they did not have proper footballs to play with. Therefore, we decided to donate 50 footballs to the project.

"Following a sale of last season's training kit to staff, we were delighted to be able to increase that to 100 footballs and also to donate some money to the scheme as well. Everyone at West Ham was delighted to be able to help out."