By Thandiwe Kubere

Maseru –

The Roger Federer foundation, which aims at giving children from a poor background access to good education in order to turn their lives around, celebrated its 20 year anniversary in Thaba-Bosiu, Maseru during its first project in Lesotho.

The foundation was brought to existence twenty years ago by the world’s legendary former tennis player Roger Federer, a philanthropist who saw the need to uplift and give underprivileged children, especially in Africa a better chance of shaping their future through education at a beginner level. Federer formalized his charity efforts in 2003 in creating the foundation.

Lesotho is the sixth country to benefit from the foundation in Southern Africa with the first country being South Africa which was inspired by Federer’s South African mom. He explains that when he began the project in Port Elizabeth, he met a young girl, who inspired the foundation’s mantra by saying, “I am tomorrow’s future”, meaning that kids are tomorrow’s future and the need to be properly taken care of.

It is generally accepted that children’s early experiences have the biggest impact on their later life. In the first five years, children develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally at a faster rate than at any other. Federer emphasized the importance of education by stating that anything can be taken from someone but not the knowledge they possess, it can rather inspire another person, a village or the society as a whole.

The Minister of Education and Training Hon. Ntoi Rapapa expressed his excitement and gratitude to have been part of such an impactful project. He explained the foundation has committed to give about 60 million to underprivileged children, teachers and the education sector as a whole. “You cannot imagine that coming from someone far to the children he does not even know.” He said the Ministry will do everything in its ability to make sure that this gets fruitful and the children from this country benefit even in future. “It is upon us as the Ministry to make sure that things go well, to account for everything, assist and contribute wherever we can as the government. So let us make sure that we take care of this initiative and whenever you see things not being done well, make sure the Minister is made aware”, he said.

Federer’s wife, Mirka declared they took an opportunity to add one more country to their portfolio and what stood out for them about Lesotho was that there is great need. She mentioned that they discovered only 40% of the children had access to reception classes. “There is still a lot to be done in this country so we felt our contribution will bring change and really make a difference. Secondly, we only work with a country when we feel we have a government to cooperate”, she said.

Mirka explained the foundation has to sign a memorandum of understanding to each country it becomes active because it wants to assure there is a counterpart to implement, also the country and government which commits its resources with actions to meet the objectives. “In Lesotho, with a small contribution, you can really make a difference. So far, we could already see the outcome, the impact in our first round of 172 schools we have worked with reception classes which is now over”. She exclaimed this could not be achieved without their implementation partner NECDOL which is doing an incredible job.

The foundation set foot in two districts, being Semonkong and Mafeteng. Federer explained the trips were a beautiful experience for him especially because it was the first time he and his family came to Lesotho. “Being in the altitude reminded me a little bit of Switzerland- we also have high mountains and a lot of snow”, he said. He explained the good conditioned play grounds and how far the schools have come with their partners it was special and great to witness.

He explained he is impressed with the way teachers in Lesotho handle reception classes. “What we believe as the Roger Federer foundation is  that it is very important that we learn through playing, which means going outside of the classroom and as an athlete I can tell you I needed to go out sometimes and clear my head, do some things a little bit different”, he said.

The reception teachers have a tablet they work with and have improved in utilizing it.  “I think they are working very well. He said one of the teachers in the beginning was afraid to touch the tablet because she did not want to break it, but now she masters it and has found it incredibly helpful. In the teacher’s great advice, the tablet has been quite effective in educating children in Lesotho and Federer said the foundation will roll it out as much as it can.

“I feel like we have had meaningful and fruitful conversations with the Ministers and for me it has been a very encouraging trip to say the least- coming here and right away feeling very welcomed”. He said in a country like this, it is necessary to have the private sector involved and not just the government. “I believe we will do the outmost and we will hopefully return to see what we have achieved as a foundation. We are also very happy to have pushed early learning in this country and reception classes which we believe every child should have at least have one year of.” He said he wants to be a sanctuary of hope for children.” He said he also hopes the private sector joins hands and contributes towards investing in the bright future of children in Lesotho.

“We have so much potential and if we work together we all know we could make an incredible impact. As a foundation, we really try to help early learning so that everybody gets a chance.

Roger did not leave the country without playing tennis with the little ones, even those who had not held a racket in their lives before. “For me to be playing in a country that is maybe not worldwide known, means much more to me because I have been trying to promote tennis and sports in the world, and for me to share a moment with the tennis family in Lesotho was beautiful.