SEATTLE, Washington — In 1990, Jason Leonard became the youngest man to play for England’s national rugby team at 22 years old. Leonard went on to have an incredibly successful rugby career. He is widely accepted as one of the most talented international rugby players of all time. Leonard’s ability to lead on the rugby pitch was crucial to his success. After retiring in 2004, Leonard brought this leadership to a different arena – global charity work. He founded the Atlas Foundation to tackle global poverty.
Tackling Global Poverty
Leonard became heavily involved in Wooden Spoon, a children’s charity that funds projects to support children with disadvantages and disabilities. In his home county of Essex, England, Leonard opened a new subset of Wooden Spoon – a sensory room at Castledon School, Wickford to aid children with differing abilities. As he spent more time off the rugby pitch, Leonard’s charity work continued to develop. He started the Atlas Foundation in 2014 in order to “improve the lives of disadvantaged children across the world.”
The Atlas Foundation
The Atlas Foundation grew rapidly after its initial startup. Soon other rugby champions joined the cause, looking to call on the rugby community to help people around the world. The Atlas Foundation focuses on many major issues facing the world, including violence, illiteracy and poverty. In particular, the Atlas Foundation’s effect on global poverty has been advantageous. The organization utilizes child development structures to create education and future employment opportunities for children, alleviating the cycle of poverty around the globe.
As of 2020, the Foundation has operated for five years. In these five years, The Atlas Foundation’s effect on global poverty has been staggering. It has implemented more than 30 projects in 19 different countries. The organization estimates that in September 2019, projects in 16 different countries had reached more than 53,000 children.
Team Talk, Kenya
While the Atlas Foundation’s efforts have reached across the globe, one project in Kenya has been particularly successful. Future Health Africa, a UK-based charity that aids people in low-income and middle-income countries, worked with the Atlas Foundation in creating a program called Team Talk. Team Talk has worked in 13 different primary schools in Kenya to implement educational programs that teach boys and girls to play flag rugby together.
Sports are known to help improve the lives of those who participate, both physically and socially. Sports can additionally enable sustainable development in low-income areas. In 2011, the year that Team Talk implemented its first program, “between a third and half” of girls in rural Kenya between the ages of 12 and 17 had dropped out of school primarily due to marriage and pregnancy. Team Talk promotes the benefits of sports while additionally aiming to bring gender equality to these primary schools in Kenya through rugby. By teaching boys and girls together and playing mixed-gender teams, it has helped children and young adults to develop teamwork and mutual respect for one another.
The Atlas Foundation’s work with Future Health Africa represents just one way that the Foundation has used rugby to improve lives and alleviate poverty across the globe. The Atlas Foundation’s effect on global poverty has been impressive since its beginnings in 2014. The organization continues to do good work in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Thanks to Jason Leonard, the Foundation has taken a sport that does so much for so many and used this passion to transform the lives of even more people by alleviating poverty, improving equality and spreading the love of the game.