Tuskegee Futbol Youth International

Dingani Nkuchwayo came a long way to be in Alabama , over 8,000 miles, from Bulawayo , Zimbabwe , Dingani’s place of birth, to Tuskegee . After coming to America and spending his teenage years in Georgia , Dingani says, “I visited Tuskegee and here I am.” That’s his simple explanation for calling the Black Belt home.

And what Dingani wants to do in the Black Belt is also simple. He wants to help, to give and improve. By this creed he defines himself.

“My overall interest in life is not materialistic,” Dingani said. “I’m only satisfied when I’m helping someone. It’s the only way to realize one’s value.”

Dingani’s method of helping, giving and improving is Tuskegee Futbol Youth International, a program he founded in 1998. The program is a nonprofit organization that brings community youth together through the sport of soccer.

“Last year we had 20 children competing,” Dingani said. “We practice in Tuskegee and compete in Montgomery against YMCA sponsored teams.”

Tuskegee Futbol Youth International is more than just a series of soccer games, however. It serves a deeper purpose. The idea behind TFYI is to educate, to teach culture and understanding, to keep children away from drugs and to improve the community itself.

“We want the children to grow spiritually and educationally,” Dingani said. “We want them to have a sense of volunteerism, to realize they can be involved in the alteration of their communities.”

Soccer, Dingani says, teaches children many valuable traits that will go with them into adulthood, among them communication and teamwork. Dingani’s program encourages positive traits off the field as well.

“We really want the children to have mentors, someone to look up to,” Dingani said. “Some of the older kids at TFYI teach the younger ones, they become leaders among their peers. The younger children eventually become teachers themselves, being big brothers to the ones below them. The cycle repeats itself. Its enrichment.”

Aside from producing leaders and developing communication, TFYI also seeks to improve the community by teaching good health habits.

“I never put any candy bars in the vending machines,” Dingani said. “I serve the children juices instead of soft drinks. They are encouraged to eat healthy, to take care of themselves.”

Health is an area where Dingani plans to expand. He has been in contact with the nursing department at Tuskegee University and hopes to have them involved in the spring.

“I hope to have them at all our practices and games,” Dingani said. “We are planning for them to set up tables and distribute fruit and juice, as well as bringing health information for the children to take to their parents.”

Dingani also wishes to expand TFYI’s educational goals. Beginning in 2006, TFYI will teach second languages to interested children. Dingani’s wife Sakinah, a linguist who will join Dingani soon in Tuskegee , will head this area of the program.

Another of Dingani’s plans, though still far on the horizon, is to take the TFYI children on a field trip to Africa , where Dingani is involved in Africa Learn and Play, a program similar to TFYI. Africa Learn and Play also utilizes community soccer and gathers used computers to teach computer skills to children there.

“Our grant from the Black Belt Community Foundation helped a lot with our immediate needs,” Dingani said. “We were able to purchase soccer equipment like goals, uniforms, cleats and soccer balls, as well as refreshments for the children. We collect used items for Africa Learn and Play. As long as something is still in good shape and not being used, we clean it up and give it to them.”

TFYI has expanded to the point that Dingani hopes to start a league for children 4 to 7 years old in the spring. He plans to target 100 children from Macon and Montgomery counties and hopes that at least 60 will participate.

TFYI has come a long way from the six children that were signed on when the program began. But even with TFYI’s humble beginnings Dingani found that his service has become a highly valued activity in the community.

“I started out going door to door, asking children if they wanted to be involved in soccer,” Dingani said. “When I asked them to play they never said yes or no, they always said ‘where’s the ball?’

“So in the beginning I would go into a community and drop a soccer ball on the ground, the children would come and we would play and practice right there,” Dingani said.

TFYI is one of dozens of organizations that receive funds from the Black Belt Community Foundation. With headquarters in Selma , BBCF is a nonprofit community foundation whose purpose is to improve conditions in the 12-county Black Belt area of Alabama , including Macon County of which Tuskegee is the county seat. Dr. Carol P. Zippert of Eutaw is chair of the foundation’s Board of Directors. Felecia Jones is executive director.

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