Tuesday, June 25, 2013
We did it!!!
One June 22 our Sierra Leone appeal hit our £1000 target, two days ahead of the closing date for donations. This means that we are delighted to say we will be able to send the 40 boys from Sektars Football Club, based in Makeni, to school for one year and also provide them with football coaching and matches for the same period.
Our More Than a Game Sierra Leone appeal was started after volunteering and working together with the Craig Bellamy Foundation and the Collective Sierra Leone in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone. We felt that we needed to do more to help the people of Sierra Leone and, after volunteering in west Africa for two months, decided this appeal was the answer. We want to thank everybody who donated their hard-earned cash to this appeal:
And so, a million thank yous go out to:
Paul Featherstone, Laurent Dathie, Footbaltic, Graham Williams, Kelvin Hooke, Josu Samaniego del Campo, Alexandra Flemming, Gordon Hamilton, Jaime Morris, Ed Russel, Jane Pannell, Atheen Spencer, Shaun Gisbourne, Erika Medene, Rupert Williams, Maureen Robinson, Bernadette Samuels, Neil Mathieson, Alan Davies, John Mottram, Graham Foster, Lindsey Langford, and Michael Finch.
Without all of you, we could not have achieved this. Your efforts will improve the quality of life of a lot of little boys in west Africa.
Monday, April 1, 2013
More Than a Game will sponsor Sektars FC for the next 12 months. Agreement has been reached with the Craig Bellamy Foundation to sponsor the Sektars FC under-12s and under-14s. Sektars FC play in the Makeni league in Sierra Leone.
Here is a description of the club as featured on the Craig Bellamy Foundation website:
Sektars FC are a product of two young men from two rival communities, whose friendship surpassed the differences between the two areas. Their dream was always to set up a football club that would unite the two communities and help people move past their differences. Sadly one of the young men would lose his life in the civil war but in tribute his friend became ever more determined to fulfill their shared dream. In 2005, this was achieved with the formation of Sektars FC.
To date we have collected £655. We need to reach a target of £1000. This will send the 40 boys playing for Sektars FC under-12s and under-14s to school for one year and will also pay for their participation in the league, regular coaching, equipment, water etc.
If you would like to help the boys of Sektars FC, then please follow the link below:
Support Sektars FC in 2013.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
More Than a Game would like to extend our thanks to Ed Russel, Paul Featherstone, Jane Pannell and Jaime Morris, who are the latest friends to kindly donate their hard-earned cash to our Sierra Leone appeal in support of 40 children going to school and playing football in the Craig Bellamy Foundation league.
Their donations have taken the running total well past the half way mark of £500, with the total so far raised now £635 - approximately $1000.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Many thanks to Shaun Gisbourne, Atheen Spencer, Rupert Williams and Erika Medene, who are the latest people to kindly donate to More Than a Game's Sierra Leone Appeal. We want to raise £1000 so that we can send 40 Sierra Leonean children to school for a year. They will also get the opportunity to play football for one year in the excellent Craig Bellamy Foundation League.
The running total is now £420. Click here to read more about the appeal and/or to donate.
Saturday, February 23, 2013 (Day 45)
Sierra Leone - England - Albania
Like I said, I feel so spaced out by the time our flight leaves Freetown that I have no sense of leaving Africa. But, something changes over the course of the next couple of hours...
... Blurry eyed, I stare ahead of me at the computer-animated flight route map. Within minutes of our departure we have long since left Sierra Leonean airspace and have already crossed much of neighbouring Guinea. As we begin to overfly Senegal I grab my pen and write down the first individual words that come into my tired head:
Humbling; uplifting; inspiring; upsetting; frustrating; rewarding; enlightening; infuriating;
These are some of the words; a few of the emotions that I felt during my seven weeks in Sierra Leone volunteering with the Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation.
Suddenly, I feel like crying when I remember much of the poverty, and the amputees, and some of those little boys working in the streets. I can say I feel proud of myself for having done this. I am definitely ready to go home but I did 'enjoy' my Salone experience, if 'enjoy' is the correct word to use.
We begin to overfly Mauritania. Gambia Bird is a joke. They are offering me a single bread roll for dinner because, despite assurances from my travel agent and at check in, they don't have any vegetarian meals. The seats don't recline and there is also practically no legroom at all making it very difficult to sleep even if you feel exhausted. Yes, I know my moaning sounds a little out of context after the previous paragraph talked of poverty and despair. But I have written this blog to record my thoughts and emotions; my highs and lows. I hope by telling things the way they really were it has given those who are interested a better sense of what it might be like to volunteer in Africa. I hope also that I have provided a balanced picture of life in Sierra Leone: yes, the country is currently one of the least developed countries in the world but it also has a hell of a lot going for it and, at times, you might end up feeling happier when you are living there, in West Africa, than when you are cocooned in your comfortable life back home in Europe or North America.
We are greeted by the sight of a spectacularly bright red sun as we begin our descent to Gatwick Airport. I think I might have managed to get one hour's sleep.
In London it is flaking with snow and so cold after Africa that I wonder what the shock must be like for an African stepping foot on this continent for the first time. It is only minus three but after seven weeks of sweating all day and all night, England has never ever felt so cold when stepping off a plane.
I cannot remember if I mentioned it before but I am straight off on holiday today. Having arrived at 7am, I check in with British Airways an hour later, a full six hours ahead of my flight to Albania, where I will meet my girlfriend this evening. It means that my journey from Charlie's house in Freetown to the Hotel Nobel in Tirana will have lasted approximately 30 hours.
A holiday in Albania? Well, after living in Sierra Leone for the best part of two months I am not quite ready for the glitz and consumerism of Western Europe. In some senses, Albania is Europe's Sierra leone: underdeveloped and largely unloved by the outside world...but full of beauty and potential.
One picture postcard from Albania perhaps....
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 (Day 42)
Text message from Bob:
"On behalf of all the CBF Makeni team I wish you a safe journey as we appreciate all your effort and that God will crown your efforts and grant you more prosperity. I am proud of you. This is a sad moment."
Alex meets me at the bus stop for a drink and to see me off to Freetown. I have loved the company of Alex and Bob. We have had such a good laugh and they have been bloody good company throughout my time in Makeni. It certainly wouldn't have been the same without them and I will miss them in the months and years to come.
I was up at 7, packing the last of my stuff and saying my goodbyes to Alsand, Famarta, Kate and Esthere. I think Charlotte and Kate will be breathing a big sigh of relief now that I have gone. I am pretty sure that Charlotte sneaked out the door this morning so she didn't need to go through the pretence of wishing me goodbye. I will certainly miss Alsand; a lovely young man who I hope gets the chance to achieve the things he wants to in life. I give him my Euro '96 England shirt to remember me by when I am gone.
The government bus to Freetown is full but, not one to give up easily, I ask the driver if I can pay and sit on a bag of rice on the floor. And just like that with Alex waving farewell and Makeni flashing by the window this chapter of my life is closed. Goodbye Makeni. I hope you prosper and are kind to all your people.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 (Day 41)
I knock out some match reports and an interview for CBF headquarters, post half a dozen blogs and smile as I see that my mum and sister as well as my good friend Neil Mathieson have all donated to my Sierra Leone fund.
They have only gone and double booked the pitch again and so there is to be no send off match for me tonight. I am gutted. I fancied a hat trick tonight and all joking aside it was my chance to say goodbye to two dozen friends most of whom I won't get the chance to see now before I leave tomorrow.
Bob can see I am itching for a game of football on my last night in Makeni and suggests I ask African Minerals if I can join their training session. This is the richest club in the region with big ambitions for the Premier League in coming seasons. I have never had the nerve to ask them if I can join them but as this is my last evening I pluck up the courage.
Five minutes later I am labouring through ten back-to-back shuttle runs from the goal line to the edge of the penalty box. That is basically 360 metres of sprinting. I feel relieved to complete the sprints without having a heart attack or being left two shuttles behind.
"Now sprint as fast as you can between the six yard box and the goal line"
These shuttles seems to go on forever and I feel like my lungs are going to explode.
Only half of the squad is here tonight as the other lads have been excused and are en route to some of the several dozen football cinemas in town for Arsenal v Bayern Munich.
We end up playing an 8-a-side match at the 'stadium of light'. The standard is high and the fitness levels even higher. Football is like an art form with these lads and when I find myself as the last defender against two oncoming forwards I blast the ball up pitch to clear the danger. "Have it!"
"Why you do that?" one lad asks me gesticulating that I could have instead controlled the ball, flicked it over one of the lads, shimmied the other and chipped the ball to him twenty yards away.
The session is hugely enjoyable. "See you tomorrow; the same time" the coach tells me, patting me on the back.
"I'd love to but I'm leaving tomorrow. I fly to England on Friday."
"Well as soon as you get back from your trip home come down here and join us again."
Oh, no. I am gutted. If only I'd asked to train with these lads six weeks ago; I could have played every evening under the lights with this classy outfit.
I grab a team photo with the African Minerals lads and leave Wusum field for the final time, strolling some of the way with John, a young talented footballer who plays in the Craig Bellamy Foundation league. John is one of the best young talents in Makeni but sadly missed out on a place at the academy at Tombo despite being invited to the trials. John is naturally two-footed and has the class and composure of a seasoned veteran. He is also a leader off the pitch: I remember a stirring performance by him in one of the anti-violence community projects in January.
"Just keep playing the way you do with both feet and make sure you continue enjoying your football. I think you are a very talented player John. Just keep believing in yourself.
"Thank you Justin. I hope you return to Makeni one day."
At Yeane's it seems like half of the male population of Makeni is watching Arsenal (the best supported team in the city) stutter and fall apart against Bayern. It is impossible to get inside the bar so I sit on the gravel outside in my football kit, with a cold Star, taking in the scene. It is one of those goose bump moments: witnessing the pleasure that the game of football gives to Africans. There must be fifty of us sat in the street peering in at the TV; many of them little boys who sadly spend their lives hawking groundnuts, cigarettes and packet water instead of going to school; boys who are united and equal with the rest of us for a few minutes in their love of the game of football. Twenty yards further on the scene is the same at Suburban bar. I am going to miss this. Watching Sky Sports down the pub in England is never going to feel quite the same again.
Monday, February 18, 2013 (Day 40)
Makeni - Kabala
The sense of the rural over the urban is almost immediate. It is purely and simply a subsistence existence and once you are just 10 kilometres out of the city the schools no longer seem to exist and the only kids you see are hawking, carrying insanely heavy loads on their heads or helping their parents...to exist.
I am on my way to Kabala for the day. We pass a huge handsome cotton tree, almost as if it has been left as a memorial to the majestic trees that once covered much of this land. Soon afterwards we cross a brand new rail line, built from scratch for African Minerals. The line runs to our left and you can just make out the plush HQ with its brand new living quarters and monstrous air con units. It shows what can be achieved when big money wants things to get done.
Further up-country almost everybody lives in thatched mud huts and the bush is far wilder than in other parts of Sierra Leone I have so far witnessed.
The bus arrives in Kabala, near the Guinea border, where it feels even hotter than in Makeni. I ask a smart-looking man in the street if he knows where the Sengbeh Guesthouse is and we end up chatting for some minutes. Bu recently returned from army service in Iraq. A proud man of 22 years military service, he dreams of setting up his own private security company here in Kabala but is hampered by the large amount of start up capital that is required.
Kabala's compact centre is full of character. There is a colourful market, a beautiful central mosque and its trading streets are home to a number of buildings that evoke the American Wild West of the gold rush days; sheer mountain faces overhanging the city.
Sengbeh Guesthouse is, I guess, a 3-kilometre walk. 60,000 leones (£9) gets me a double en suite with electricity (7pm-midnight), TV and balcony. I even get breakfast although as I need to be at the bus station for 6.30 that doesnt seem very realistic.
Sajid Toure is a man who looks more like a Saharan African with his long torn, dusty tunic. I am not sure whether he is the hotel manager or just the odd job man but either way he is one hell of a character. He tells me the town has had its first tourists in recent years, inquisitive about this relatively unknown and beautiful corner of the world, close to Guinea.
The guesthouse's cook is the complete bipolar opposite of Sajid: a firey babushka of a woman who makes me feel afraid to even ask for a bottle of beer never mind try to order a vegetarian meal. And so, for the second night running, I skip my evening meal and make do with a couple of cold beers instead.
The TV works but only has one channel showing one of those rather culturally disturbing African soap operas which intermingles Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs into something rather complicated and impossible for the outsider to understand. Secret societies are a hugely significant part of Sierra Leonean life. Outsiders know very little about what goes on as members of these societies often face pain of death if they reveal concrete information about their rituals and initiation ceremonies. It is said that 95% of Sierra Leonean women are initiated. In other words, virtually all the women in this country are witches; be it Christian or Muslim or neither. The secret societies are, on the whole, a taboo subject. It can be very uncomfortable speaking to anybody about the civil war but you tend to completely leave alone the secret society topic.
Enjoying the views of the Wara Wara mountains and the peace and solitude of my temporary residence in Kabala, I do a couple of hours of work for CBF HQ then retire to my double bed with the luxury of a fan. The temperature here drops below 25 at night so I find myself having the best sleep since I was at the coast a few weeks ago.
Saturday, February 16, 2013 (Day 38)
This is what i have learnt about Africa:
Things that seem impossible are usually possible. Anything seemingly straight forward and achievable usually isn't. The homework club didn't get the green light. Plans to watch one of the girls' teams today have been scrapped. Famarta is late for the first time since I moved in and breakfast is at 8.30 rather than 7, meaning that Alasand and me have had to postpone our early morning climb of Wusum Hill.
I am determined to achieve something with my day so I decide to spend five hours online pushing the charity fund I have set up, mostly through Facebook. Michael Finch, a good mate of mine that I met in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup is the first person to donate to the fund. He is quickly followed by my very close friend of many years, Graham Foster, who has done plenty of fundraising himself over the past couple of years to raise cash for a cerebral palsy charity. In my head I made a bet that the first person to donate would be Graham or Michael. The third person to donate is Lindsey Younger, a girl I went to school with and haven't seen in nearly two decades, making it all the more amazing that she should so kindly choose to help me help these kids.
After an hour or two of uploading blogs that I can post early next week and posting photos of Africa to raise awareness, I suddenly get two fantastic emails in the space of ten minutes. The first is from a close family friend, John Mottram, who donates a whopping £50. Thank you John!
Then I do a double take as I read my email from GivenGain telling me Alan Davies has donated £100. The last time I saw Alan was in 2003 when he came to stay with me in Kofu, Japan, where I was teaching English. Alan was on cloud nine when I met him that day because he had just discovered that he was to be a father. I remember us getting very very drunk and when I put Alan back on the train to Tokyo, where he lived at that time, we were both quite a state. I get straight on to Facebook to send letters of thanks to all of the above and Alan almost immediately replies from the United States, where he now lives. He tells me has been following my blog closely and "It is the least I could do." We then briefly catch up on what is going on in our lives and I discover Alan has two kids as well as ten thousand bees! It is incredible to think that my old school friend is chatting to me in Sierra Leone from the USA. We both remark about the differing directions our lives have taken. I hope to see Alan when he visits the UK in late spring.
And so I leave the MJ Hotel on top of the world at the news that i have already raised £230 in the first 48 hours, and that is from just five friends. Amazing. If you are reading this, please help us to hit that £1000 target and pay for forty kids to go to school for one year as well as to play football in the super Craig Bellamy Foundation league.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 (Day 36)
Over spicy breakfast omelette baguettes Charlie and I discuss what has been achieved during my time in Sierra Leone with the Collective and the CBF. There have been plenty of frustrations but I feel happy overall with what I have achieved here and can leave satisfied.
I will be the last Collective volunteer to work with the CBF. After my departure the CBF will use their own volunteer to fully manage Makeni. The Collective, meanwhile, will continue to place overseas volunteers with NGOs across Sierra Leone who are looking to improve the lives of the people here and to boost the economy and the quality of life in this developing country. They are doing some very very good work here.
I made the mistake of telling too many people about the good quality free Wi-Fi at MJ Motel and increasingly other NGO volunteers pop in here, for the odd hour or two, to get vital work done that they might struggle with on the usual slower connections. Predictably, as a result, the hotel now wants non-guests to pay per hour for Wi-Fi. It works out at about two Star beers per hour in terms of leones. I leave next week so I just thank my lucky stars I had this place all to myself for the last couple of weeks.
It is an absolute scorcher today; the hottest day so far by my reckoning. It feels like it must be 40. Bob and Alex ask me to referee the 4 o’clock match but I purposely swerve them until 4.30 knowing that my body just couldn’t cope with an hour refereeing in this heat. And so instead I find myself broadening my horizons by becoming a linesman for the second inter-school cup match of the day. I have given linesmen a fair bit of stick over the years watching League one and two matches with Northampton Town back in England. Today I have got a bunch of kids giving me hell on the touch line. It is all in good humour but I do sense that linesman karma is coming back to haunt me.
There are a couple of occasions where I am about to flag in one direction or the other for a throw and, for a split second, my mind gets muddled with which way the two teams are kicking. I hope my tenure as a linesman is short lived. I don’t think I am cut out for this.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a two-month voluntary placement in January 2013.