Prior to our arrival in Ghana, word had gone out to local schools that the Kicking Off tournament would be taking place on 17th February, and schools within a 50km radius were invited to apply.
We were delighted to receive a staggering 28 applications, however, we had the difficult task of selecting just 8 to take part, each bringing a boy's team and a girl's team. We agreed that 3 of the schools would be from Mpraeso - where the stadium is based - and the other 5 schools from the lake region, a far poorer area, where the children are more likely to be suffering from a variety of medical issues.
For our first 2 days out in the field, we travelled around these 8 schools, officially making the invitation to attend the tournament.There was great excitement as we arrived in each school, carrying 2 footballs; 1 for the boy's team and 1 for the girl's team – this being their ticket to attend on Saturday.
We also bought rules and regulations for taking part, and explained how each child would be given a basic medical check and receive treatment where appropriate.
Each visit took twice as long as expected, as white face causes huge excitement and within minutes we were literally surrounded by children wanting to hold our hand or touch our straight hair.
The Headmistress of one of the poorest lake schools told us these children had only ever seen 1 white person, so seeing a group of us together caused initial shyness and caution, although this very quickly evaporated and was replaced by giggles, smiles, laughter and requests to be our friend.
It’s seen as a great honour to be able to go to school here, and children – up to 50 in a class - work long days. They literally hang on every word the teacher says; they have a real thirst for knowledge and learning. Almost every child wears a uniform which they take great pride in, and from first impressions they all look fairly smart. However, on closer inspection you quickly realise they are really worn and ragged, shoes often have toes poking through holes, if indeed they are wearing shoes at all. We also spotted various children with obvious skin conditions, most likely caused by limited access to clean water and their general living conditions – although none of this seemed to dampen their zest for life and general joyful demeanour.
By seeing this, it really makes you question what you really need to make you happy.
As we left the small village we are staying in, near Mpraso - where poverty is clearly visible - off the main roads and into villages off the beaten track, you realise that this is poverty on a whole different level. Large extended families live in mud huts with no furniture apart from mats which they sleep on. One village we visited only had electricity installed a year ago, which appears to be for lighting only, as everyone seems to cook on open fires outside.
There is rubbish everywhere and at least one village had an open sewage channel running close to a school and the surrounding huts. We asked how a village with no sewage channels dealt with their waste and we were shocked to find that it was disposed of in the lake where we had just seen people bathing, washing clothes and even more disturbingly collecting water from. It is for this reason that virtually every child in this village suffers from the painful water infection called Bilharzia – something that Kicking Off test for and treats at the tournament. The Tier 2 element of this is putting in place ongoing treatment for these children until they are able to provide community water filters to be able to finally put a stop to so many children, and adults alike, suffering from this completely preventable illness.
This is only one of the hugely impactful projects that Kicking Off is working on in this region.
Everywhere we travelled we passed people carrying water. The luckier ones may have a bore hole within half an hour, however many have to walk at least an hour each day to collect water.
We spoke to one little girl, who got up at 3am every day to travel an hour each way to collect water, as well as other jobs, before walking 45 mins to be in school on time. School hours here are 7am – 2pm. She is from one of the schools which will be at the tournament and this means that at least for this one day 500 children, whether players or spectators, will have all the water they need without having to walk for hours to collect it – and this water will be safe and clean.
We gradually realised just how much trust has been developed for Julian and the Kicking Off team by holding these tournaments over the last 18 months (this is the 3rd). Now that this trust has been gained, in both the local community and the local schools, Tier 2 projects of ongoing support can start to be put into place.
Our first full 2 days in the field has at times felt overwhelming with so many problems to be solved in this region, most of them completely preventable with the right support, and many of them are things that we take for granted such as turning on a tap or switching on a light.
In the most barren of areas, whilst visiting a school that has literally nothing, there is a single, beautiful flower growing in the dust that made us think about how remarkable things can happen in the harshest conditions; and how this charity is also blossoming from one young man’s bold vision.
Please help a child secure a place at a life changing tournament.
To donate £3 text KICK to 70007. Thank you.