Where to begin in summing up my 3 and a bit months working with the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre? This is something I’ve been sat puzzling about for some time now, but for someone who last wrote anything more than an email when studying, the beginning is where I should start.
Back in the UK, I work behind a desk every day, 9-5, 5 days a week and living for my weekends. I spend my weekends playing football and then enjoying myself with friends and family. The usual ‘there must be more’ feelings are present most of the time. So, when the opportunity came to come out to Ghana and spend some time with my Dad, who lives in Accra (I was born here too), I jumped on it and as usual came across with nothing but hopes and dreams. That was how I came to the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre.
My time at Kokrobite Chiltern Centre has to go down as one of the most memorable in my life. I know most people reading this will have heard that from countless other volunteers and travellers, so I won’t indulge in that side of things. However, I feel it’s important that I state that, because for me, being the first time I’ve ever done something like this, it’s very true. I mean, for someone who plays football 4 times and more a week, spends his ‘free’ time watching it, how else could I find spending 3 and a bit months coaching football here in Ghana, in bright sunshine by the beach?
From my first slightly nervous steps with the team (where I turned up one Saturday, faced with 15+ U12 boys and was asked to give the pre-match speech) I have had a ball. Along with my co-coach and manager Martial, I helped with the running of a colt’s football team that consists of an U12 and U15 and an U17 team. Early on, I had to try and contain my embarrassment when I realised that a fair number of the players had more skills than I could ever hope to possess. However, watching them train and play and even being a part of it was a joy. For those who don’t know, football here in Ghana is a massive part of kids growing up. Most boys (and now even some girls – girls football, at least at youth level, seems to be just starting up here) play football while growing up. Football is also played anywhere, from the beach to the streets to the alleyways and facilities, whilst not what I know I’m used to, do have a certain charm about them – the park we play our matches on is mainly sand – can you think how skilful you have to be when the ball can bounce in any direction when it hits the floor – steep learning curve for me!
However, without the work done by Martial and Jane, a lot of these lads wouldn’t be able to play at all. Not only do they provide a lot of these kids with the means to become educated (school fees, exam fees, clothes, transport and food money etc) but they also keep this team alive and competing in the local league. This not only involves the fees involved in junior football, but the provisions which everyone associates with running a football team (transport, drinks, strips etc) and some that I know most of my colleagues and friends in football will not, the provision of boots, shin pads, socks etc, the lack of which sometimes prevent these lads from playing.
So, that leads me neatly onto Martial and Jane who I feel deserve more than I can do credit here with written word. When I decided to volunteer I felt that it’d be good to do something like this, for the players and also for me. However, since I have seen the work Martial and Jane put in to this for the benefit of the children in the Kokrobite area, simply volunteering pales considerably. Basically, imagine a job working 6am to 11pm, mainly 7 days a week, trying to manage the varying demands of kids of all ages and their educational needs? Suffice to say, I was and always will be impressed by the selfless nature of both Jane and Martial.
Finally, if anyone reading this is even thinking about doing something like this, please, all I’d say is do it. Kokrobite itself is a beautiful place, a small seaside village, with a gorgeous beach, but getting involved and helping whichever way possible, will not only be a huge benefit to the kids of this village, but it’ll be something you will not fail to enjoy. For me, I now leave with a heavy heart, knowing that these past 3 months have been just about idyllic for a desk-jockey from Newcastle!!