Cowboys are in a league of their own

eyesCharities and NGOs generally start from concerned groups of wealthy or well-connected individuals. They don’t usually emerge out of Sunday league football teams.

But then Kiptik are not your everyday charity and the Easton Cowboys are certainly not any old sports club. The team is semi-legendary in their native Bristol for their unusual exploits around the world. They have played cricket in the ganglands of South Central Los Angeles and in 2007 became the first British football team to tour the West Bank.

Before all of that happened, in 1999 they embarked on a football tour to Chiapas in South East Mexico as an act of solidarity with the Zapatistas, the ski-masked rebels who in 1994 rose up against 500 years of oppression against indigenous peoples and quickly became a cause célèbre for the anti-globalisation movement. ‘It was an amazing tour,’ remembers centre back Roger Wilson. ‘For myself and some of the others who went there, it changed our lives.’

All 25 Cowboys and girls were profoundly moved by what they had seen: ordinary men and women with limited resources working incredibly hard to improve their lives. ‘It was one of the women who had gone on the trip who said “we’ve got a lot out of this, we should give something back”’, says Wilson. ‘I had already decided to go back out there and work on a water project but there was a feeling that we’re not just going to work, we’re going to raise money for it too’.

So in May 2000 the Easton Cowboys hired the Thekla nightclub in Bristol for a benefit night to raise money for a water system. Music was provided by local drum ‘n’ bass face DJ Suv, the decor by a then unknown artist named Banksy. The night raised over £1,400.

Shortly afterwards a separate group was formed to specifically raise funds for the Zapatistas, christening itself ‘Kiptik’, an indigenous word that translates as ‘inner strength’. In the last decade and a half a succession of volunteers from around the UK have travelled to Chiapas, helping the Zapatista communities dig trenches, build water tanks and construct water systems. The group has raised over £120,000, money that has provided fresh water for over 5,000 people.

el puertoThis is remarkable considering that, unlike other NGOs, Kiptik is an entirely voluntary organisation. No members are paid. ‘It is small scale so all the resources that we’ve collected go straight into supplying materials’, says Wilson. ‘All the way through the process there is a policy of trying to make it sustainable, passing on knowledge and skills, to make the technology accessible to people. I’m proud that despite having no experience in doing anything like this we have had a go. And we’ve created a relationship between two very different groups of people that is unmediated.’

‘Because it’s not just about delivering material resources, it’s about the interaction that goes on and the fun we’ve had with the people out there. They are communities in resistance, which is not an easy thing to be for two decades. To have some level of involvement in that is great.’

Will Simpson

For more info go to www.kiptik.org

Socialist Lawyer, October 2014, pp 10-11

http://www.haldane.org/socialist-lawyer/socialist-lawyer/

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