Bella reaches her goal

Ms Ndayikeze, an Edmund Rice Lions coach, forged a role for herself in the local football competition, 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.�

Ms Ndayikeze 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, Ms Ndayikeze moved to Australia when she was seven after spending time in refugee camps in Tanzania.

She plays for West Perth�s female football team and said the sport had helped her 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.

Mr Mugambwa credited Ms Ndayikeze for her enthusiasm and professionalism.