Fotos: Borussia / Christian Verheyen

Sport has the power to unite

Together committed to the common good

When the Embolo Foun­da­tion was estab­lished, Breel Embolo was just start­ing his foot­ball career at the age of 17. Thanks to its well-coor­di­na­ted team, the foun­da­tion is now able to react quickly and offer targe­ted aid.

You estab­lished your own foun­da­tion in 2015. What made you take this step?

In 2015, I was still comple­ting my appren­ti­ce­ship at the Foot­ball Asso­cia­tion. Jean­nette Paolucci was my teacher. She came up with the idea of estab­li­shing a foundation.

Why estab­lish your own foun­da­tion? You could have just made a dona­tion if you wanted to do good.

Back then, my family was alre­ady spon­so­ring a child, and Jean­nette Paolucci was invol­ved in non-profit work in Peru. After a spon­ta­neous discus­sion, we reali­sed that we had a common inte­rest in the field of non-profit work. This led to the idea that we could use my name to make more of an impact. Although I have to say, I was a little scep­ti­cal at the begin­ning. After all, I was only 17. Estab­li­shing a foun­da­tion in my name was a chall­enge for me at that age. I asked myself: what will this change for me?

You were right at the start of your foot­ball career and were still play­ing for FC Basel. 

I was still very young. I also wasn’t on the natio­nal team yet. I actually wasn’t even a regu­lar player for FC Basel yet and I didn’t have the repu­ta­tion and image that I have today.

Didn’t it take a lot of courage to estab­lish a foun­da­tion in your name?

It did take a lot of courage. It raised expec­ta­ti­ons in the public eye. I couldn’t assess the situa­tion in the same way that Jean­nette Paolucci did. I couldn’t have done it by myself. But she belie­ved in me. She reali­sed how many people we could reach using my name, what we could achieve and how we could help child­ren with it. Today, I have to say that estab­li­shing the foun­da­tion was a great idea. In the first few years, my eyes were opened as to how much of an impact we could make. It’s amazing to be able to provide people with easy-to-access aid. Ever­y­thing has run smoothly so far. But there are always things that can be done better.

Where does the foun­da­tion operate?

We run projects in Cameroon – where I’m from – and in Peru, where Jean­nette Paolucci has alre­ady worked. She is on the Board of Trus­tees. And we also operate in Switzerland. 

Reading about the foundation’s work, one gets the impres­sion that your focus is on getting things done.

That’s right. We wanted to create some­thing infor­mal, some­thing diffe­rent. We want to make sure that ever­yone who dona­tes knows that every centime helps – no matter if someone dona­tes five centi­mes or CHF 5,000, it all helps. We don’t have piles of money. That’s why we fight for every centime, and are deligh­ted every time someone makes a dona­tion. We also want to show where every centime goes. 

Have you visi­ted the projects yourself?

I’ve visi­ted projects in Switz­er­land and Cameroon, or I atten­ded events there. Unfort­u­na­tely I haven’t visi­ted Peru yet. I always spend a few days of my holi­days doing some­thing chari­ta­ble. That’s when I visit the projects myself. It’s always a great expe­ri­ence seeing where the aid goes and how people are helping themselves. 

What do you take away from these experiences?

They give me strength, and I can switch off. It’s really some­thing diffe­rent. And that is exactly how it should be. That was our main goal. We have all dona­ted to a project. But when you are directly invol­ved in the project, can visit it and expe­ri­ence what has been achie­ved and imple­men­ted, and how we were able to help – it’s very moving. It spurs us on to provide even more help. I’ve seen what people need. And we all feel the tremen­dous grati­tude. People are very happy about the projects. To see that the aid works, and to reco­g­nise that it is urgen­tly needed by its reci­pi­ents – these are the two things that we targe­ted when estab­li­shing our foundation. 

Fotos: Borussia / Christian Verheyen; zVg

«We want to show where every penny goes.»

Breel Embolo

You’re buil­ding a foot­ball pitch in Peru, for exam­ple. How do these kinds of projects come into existence?

It differs a lot. We’ve got a very good link to the foot­ball asso­cia­tion, and we get lots of requests through our cont­acts. We’ve also built a school toge­ther with a part­ner, and jointly orga­nised the resour­ces for this. For the projects we support, it’s important to us to give people pros­pects. This is why we are commit­ted to educa­tion, health and healthy eating. This project was very successful. Gene­rally spea­king, we always have diffe­rent projects on the go, inclu­ding smal­ler ones. We also provide aid at short notice, too, as we are doing now for Ukraine.

What did you do?

We orga­nised aid supplies and drove to the border – Jean­nette Paolucci also went. On the way back, we took refugees. 

To react quickly, you need a team that func­tions well together.

We defi­ni­tely do. We are a team, a family. Due to my work as a profes­sio­nal foot­bal­ler for Borus­sia Mönchen­glad­bach, I’m not able to be at every meeting. But I’m always kept up to date about ever­y­thing, I know what’s going on. This is how we’re always able to react in a flexi­ble way.

Such as reac­ting to the war in Ukraine?

A year ago, no one would have thought that there would be war on Euro­pean soil again. We just got toge­ther and discus­sed what we could do. This included simple ques­ti­ons, such as how much the fuel would cost for a return trip. We conside­red whether we had the budget for the project. When we decide to carry out a project, things start moving pretty quickly. We have a team that is extre­mely flexi­ble and hard­wor­king. They put their heart and souls into their work, and believe in what we do. They never pursue their own inte­rests. It is important to us all that these projects are not carried out for image reasons. Ever­yone helps out of their own convic­tion. Expe­ri­en­cing this always gives me goose­bumps. We work like a family. 

The inte­gra­tion tour­na­ment was the first project in Switz­er­land. In 2017, the second edition took place in Rein­ach BL.

The foun­da­tion also provi­ded rapid aid after the cata­stro­phic floods in the Ahr valley in Germany last year. Your projects are charac­te­ri­sed by the fact that you can draw on a wide network, espe­ci­ally from foot­ball. In your opinion, does sharing common ground shape chari­ta­ble work?

Yes. In these kinds of situa­tions, ever­yone can see what is happe­ning and put them­sel­ves in the shoes of those affec­ted. The inter­net and social media make it easy to cont­act people and get mobilised. 

What did the campaign involve?

The best thing about it was that the Ahr valley campaign was connec­ted to foot­ball. We were told about a campaign called ‘Fuss­ball hilft Fuss­ball’, which was run by a foot­bal­ler from Ahrwei­ler, and deci­ded to help out. On social media, Jean­nette Paolucci asked people to donate items, and a lot of foot­ball clubs, compa­nies and even anony­mous donors took part. We were also able to react quickly and flexi­bly here. It helps that our foun­da­tion isn’t fixed on one project, and we can help at any time. We can discuss projects in the foun­da­tion, talk about any objec­tions, and clarify if we have the means to help and how we can do so. We also think about if it would be better to invest our efforts in another project. And then we get to work – always looking forwards. Unfort­u­na­tely, too much goes on in the world and we can’t always help with ever­y­thing. We work infor­mally, we stand toge­ther and prepare, so we can react to the next event.

Do you have any projects that are parti­cu­larly close to your heart?

I always want to connect the foundation’s projects to foot­ball, which is why I am parti­cu­larly proud of our refu­gee foot­ball tour­na­ment – our first project in Switz­er­land. We wanted to let refu­gees know that they are welcome, so we came up with the idea of an inte­gra­tion tour­na­ment. We wanted to create a special day for the refu­gees, during which all they had to do was enjoy play­ing foot­ball and have fun. It was very special to be able to be a part of the first tour­na­ment. Former team­ma­tes, foot­ball play­ers and other cele­bri­ties also took part. The tour­na­ment showed the power of sport and how it unites everyone. 

How much influence does your own story have?

Sport also really helped me to inte­grate when I moved to Switz­er­land from Cameroon. And that’s why the tour­na­ment was so special for me. We were able to give the refu­gees a day during which they could put their problems to one side. For ten, twelve hours, they could play foot­ball without any worries. But we are also very aware that their lives conti­nue after this day. 

When you star­ted your foot­ball career at FC Nord­stern in Basel, were you alre­ady aiming to become a profes­sio­nal foot­ball player?

I always say that being a foot­bal­ler is a dream job because you get to expe­ri­ence how cultures and people who speak diffe­rent languages come toge­ther and all get on with each other. When you expe­ri­ence the crowd in a stadium, it’s easy to under­stand why this sport plays a part in uniting people and brin­ging them toge­ther. The aim of the game is pretty simple: the ball has to go into the goal. Which is why, for me, the game is the easiest path to inte­gra­tion. When I star­ted at FC Nord­stern, I wasn’t the top talent who could easily get past ten oppon­ents. Foot­ball was much more about inte­gra­tion for me. I played foot­ball at school, I had played foot­ball in Cameroon, and I played foot­ball in my district in Basel. I got to know people and expe­ri­ence emoti­ons. Of course, we also argued. But by the next day, it was all forgotten. 

How did you end up at FC Nordstern?

I went to FC Nord­stern because most of my friends from my district played there. I never really thought about a profes­sio­nal career. Back then, foot­ball was the best part of my life. I could be who I wanted to be. I could play foot­ball with my colle­agues. The best thing was getting out on the pitch toge­ther on Sundays, and if we won, it was the number one topic of conver­sa­tion on Monday.

You mana­ged to get Manuel Akanji, a team­mate from the natio­nal team, to be an ambassa­dor for the foun­da­tion. Was it diffi­cult to convince him to do this?

No. It was great that he was instantly on board. Manuel is like a brot­her to me. We’re always in touch. We know ever­y­thing about each other. He is also heavily invol­ved in projects in Nige­ria, which I will also help him out with. That’s why it was quite easy to get him invol­ved. He knows ever­yone here – and he knows Jean­nette Paolucci very well.

What projects do you want to do in the future?

In rela­tion to the foun­da­tion, we want to change the concept slightly. We want to orga­nise a variety of events, and be more outward-looking. We want to reju­ve­nate the team and make the work easier for them. My biggest goal is to make the lives of those who do so much for child­ren easier. We have lots of support­ers who are older, who put their heart and soul into their work. But they take a lot on, which is why we want to ligh­ten their load and also appeal to youn­ger helpers, and moti­vate them to get invol­ved. My main aim is to get the foun­da­tion invol­ved in more important projects. It would be a great honour for me, along­side play­ing foot­ball. We now have to unite the diffe­rent ideas in the foun­da­tion. We’re on the right path. And hopefully I’ll be able to fulfil my grea­test dream one day. 

What is your grea­test dream?

I want to estab­lish a foot­ball academy where we could take on kids and give them a future through sports and educa­tion. Then, when I’m 35 or 40, I could work with the child­ren and share my expe­ri­en­ces. That’s my grea­test dream. 

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