We were all quite pumped on Saturday morning, looking forward to a run around with the Kids for Africa group. Marvin, an ex-footballer who leads this group, gives underprivileged children a focus through soccer and netball, which takes them off the streets and away from crime and drugs.
Having Skyped home for well wishes and, in the case of one of our group, some sage advice (“remember Mum, you don’t need to be too competitive, they’re only kids”) we headed the short distance across town to their ‘pitch’.
If judged by international standards there’d have been all sorts of complaints about the playing surface to the governing body. This rocky, sloping piece of dirt, littered with pot holes and the rare tuft of grass, is used 7 days a week for boys and girls from under 9s upwards for training and matches. Training provides a focus, discipline and the chance for mentoring and pastoral care. For some it may mean the chance for elite scouting (Marvin told us he regularly gets two boys into the Barcelona East Africa training squad). For most it won’t but that’s ok. The social benefits are enough.
With all the niceties observed (a guard of honour to welcome us, a minute’s silence for lost parents, a welcome speech and an introduction to the players) we settled in to watch the first match.
That’s when the panic set in!
Watching these tough super talented kids, some playing in thongs or bare foot (I did mention the sharp pebbles and rocks didn’t I?) kick the living daylights out of each other in the name of sport brought realisation to a few of us that we were, perhaps, beyond our prime.
Having warmed up (stood up), stretched (to do shoe laces up) and agreed positions and formations (don’t all bunch up) we took the field.
We quickly settled into our rhythm. With Kendall and Andrea rock solid in defence, and Remy directing from the back, we started to press. The kids made playing on that surface look much easier than it was. We resorted to the tactics of a wet and windy Sunday morning in the Parklands. Hoof it forward for the big guy (Lachlan) in the hope he’d get a touch and a favourable bounce would see us right. It didn’t!
We quickly went one down before Gerry leapt salmon like to tower above the defence at the back post. He met Lachlan’s pin point cross firmly but headed against the bar.
With the crowd’s encouragement (we later found out they were shouting at the kids to go easy on us!) we persevered. Gerry finally equalised. Having had a complete air shot earlier there was no guarantee that he’d connect as the crowd of players in front of him backed off (as you would when you want your three year old nephew to have a chance). Thankfully he did and we were all square at half time.
Bodies were put on the line in the second half. While Tegan nearly pulled off the double save of the century, she couldn’t quite keep the ball out with her head. So despite tireless running the team from the Kain Foundation weren’t bringing the Kain Soccer Cup home.
Confidence was much higher when the netball started. This was our game. With the advice from home about being too competitive being firmly ignored and a three feet height advantage with our goal shooter, the result should have been a forgone conclusion. It wasn’t!
The Kids For Africa girls were fantastic and with a very high score rate kept themselves in close contention. Kendall looked like she could run forever. Lachlan finally found his range as Goal Shooter. Jodie, Tegan and Liz all showed they could play a bit. Chris struggled to understand the referee’s interpretation of the contact rule while Gerry and Andrea cheered the team on.
With an honourable draw secured, trophies presented and gifts of balls, sports bags and bibs handed over we went for lunch with the kids.
While we all had a lot of fun, the serious side to this visit was the importance of the kids having something to look forward to and learn from, outside of simply subsisting in this poor city community. It was great to see some focus on girls as well as boys (not always common here) and the care that Marvin and his team have for the kids.