Published: 15 December 2011
by GEORGIA GRAHAM
TWO years ago, Kiko Matthews almost died. She was rushed to King’s College Hospital with a dangerous tumour on her pituitary gland after losing huge amounts of weight and developing severe diabetes.
For months, it was touch and go but when she finally recovered, the 30-year-old from Stratford Villas decided something had to change.
Quitting her job as a biology teacher, Ms Matthews wanted to do something a little bit more exciting with her life – something like driving across two continents to South Africa.
She said: “I woke up one day and realised that I could so easily have been dead. I didn’t want to spend my whole life stuck in a classroom.”
So instead, she has decided to join an educational project bringing rugby and education to schools across Africa.
And as life changes go, heading off in two Land-Rover Discoveries on a six-month drive with five men across Africa certainly is a change.
From January, the team plan to introduce rugby to 15 schools in 10 different countries. She said: “When you think of football, you think of the sport but you also think of the football hooliganism and violence that goes with it.
“With rugby, you have a massive, violent scrum on the pitch but then it is good natured and gentlemanly off the pitch.
“We teach five different things that rugby stands for as well as sport – solidarity, discipline, integrity, passion and respect.
“For every group of kids that we have playing the sport, there will be other kids waiting to play and then we can teach those children about health, about drugs and smoking and, of course, about Aids.
“It is also a chance to speak a bit about human rights and about gender.”
She added: “It’s going to be a challenge all the way through. It’s a long, long way and we’ll be going through Syria, we’ll be going through Libya, which are not going to be easy border crossings.”
The team will be made up of three rugby coaches, a medic, the team leader and Ms Matthews, who will be in charge of education.
Eventually each of the schools will be linked with a school back in the UK and over the next few months the team would love to hear from local schools who would be interested in linking up.
The team are also looking for people with a keen interest in rugby to come out and join the project for a few weeks at a time to offer some extra coaching.