Bella breaks barriers

Bella, an Edmund Rice Lions coach, has forged a role for herself in the local football competition by coaching and playing despite protests from within her community.

She said she found herself alone as the only 15-year-old African woman coaching football, but understood the far-reaching benefits for the community, despite initial disapproval from some of the boys she was coaching.

�I had to stand up to wear certain clothes when I wanted to do sports,� she said.

�My community was saying negative things because there were girls at church wearing long skirts and there I was running around with shorts and a singlet and talking to boys way older than me.

�At some stages I felt like the game was very unwelcoming to females, because I had no understanding of it and I didn�t see any women play, so I felt like the only one doing what I am doing.�

Bella said she had WA Football Commission community engagement manager and South Fremantle player Paul Mugambwa to thank for encouraging her to pursue her career in football.

Originally from Burundi, Bella moved to Australia when she was seven after spending time in refugee camps in Tanzania.

Presently playing for West Perth�s female football team, she said the sport had helped her to identify with Australia.

�The Edmund Rice Youth Leadership program has helped me understand that it�s not about you and how you feel, it�s about doing what is needed in a community, and the goal was clear, �Change lives through what you do,� and I tried that instead of worrying about what anyone says about my gender or age,� she said.

�For me, I never understood how Australian culture worked.

�I had no confidence so having to speak to some of the guys was a hard task, but eventually I got there.�

Mugambwa credited Bella for her enthusiasm and professionalism.

�Her initiative is remarkable at such a young age and every week I receive positive feedback about her effort from stakeholders in the community and co-workers including our chief executive,� he said.

Bella said she hoped to pursue a career in football with the help of AFL Sports Ready, as well as continuing to inspire new Australians to pick up a football.