University of Dayton graduate Justin Forzano has turned the soccer pitch into a classroom for over 500 youth in the city of Kumba, Cameroon through the work of the Cameroon Football Development Program.
Founded by Forzano in 2010, the CFDP is a non-profit organization that identifies itself as a “sport-for-development” program with a mission “to provide leadership, life skills and health education to youth on the soccer field,” according to its website.
Forzano, who graduated with an engineering degree in 2008, said the ideas for the CFDP began in 2006 with a trip to the village of Barombi Mbo in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, near Kumba, with the UD program Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service Learning (ETHOS). Forzano said,he worked with the ETHOS team to design, construct, and implement a water supply system in the village over the summers of 2006 to 2008.
During his first trip to Cameroon, Forzano said he was struck by the village’s abysmal living conditions and lack of resources.
“The village was stagnant,” Forzano said. “Young people didn’t have any support infrastructure. The corruption level was very high and the health system was stuck in the colonial era. There was almost no leadership in the country, and it lead to an attitude of great pessimism among the youth.”
He said the situation is not unique to Cameroon, and “faces nations across the African continent.”
Forzano said each summer he returned to Cameroon, he brought donated soccer equipment and gear to give to the villagers. According to the CFDP website, by 2008 “all young men—about 35—in the Barombi village were equipped with donated soccer shoes from the U.S.”
The website also said a team set of jerseys was donated to the village by Forzano’s high school, Wheeling Central High School, in Wheeling, W.Va.
Forzano said he worked as an engineer in Pittsburgh for three years after graduating from UD and quit his job in 2010 to pursue the CFDP full-time. According to Forzano, the CFDP has grown rapidly, and now consists of two locations, dozens of volunteers and a board of directors.
In Kumba, seven primary staff oversee the program and the training and certification of volunteers, which is an intensive two-week process, he said. The team now serves over 500 youth with boys’ and girls’ year-round leagues and summer programs, he said.
He said the U.S. team is composed of an advisory board and a board of directors, of which Forzano is the Executive Director.
Forzano said he hopes to see the program expand in the coming years. He said there are tentative plans to implement the project in the Cameroonian cities Buea, a college town and the southwest regional capital, and Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest Region.
“The program is experimental right now. It’s in development so we can work out the unforeseen before we expand,” he said.
He added, “the program’s approach is flexible enough so that we can adapt to any place but leave the core unchanged.”
Jarred White, a senior engineering major, said the program and its underlying ideas could generate great positive change.
“The grassroots nature of the program could be very powerful because of how already connected the people are,” White said. “That, combined with it being fun, could create a lot of passion and facilitate strong community development.”
Forzano said the CFDP is currently accepting applicants for internships. Information can be found under the “Get Involved” header on the website.