A first time volunteer

Philip Bourke on his maiden voyage to Chifundo“Why are you doing it?” he asked, his eyes burning a hole in my conscience. I held his inquisitive gaze for a moment before I asked him to repeat the question. Not because I’d forgotten the question, I was simply buying some time as I figured out how best to respond.

It appeared as though I had done or was about to do something outrageous, probably cruel and most likely illegal. “No, genuinely, I want to know why you are doing this?” my interrogator probed deeper.

I went all Billie Piper in my response, “Because I want to!” Fingers crossed the life of wild debauchery and ill informed choices will not be my lot too. Actually, wild debauchery doesn’t sound too bad.

Alas, my friend’s question is valid… and has stayed with me for the six weeks since he pricked my conscience. Now, with less than a week to go, I wonder, “Why am I heading off to coach the children in Malawi football for a week in July?”

Don’t worry Billie, I do want to, but there must be more to it… and there is, I think.

These children are poor, but then what does poor mean? They live in houses with mud for a floor, most cannot read or write. Among these children prostitution has robbed them of a mother. Their families may earn as little as fifty euro a month, yet petrol costs the same as it does here.

Yet they play, they play with anything and everything. Bits of wood, broken glass, machetes… a ball made of elastic bands. I want to see what they can do with their ball and given the opportunity what they could do with a size 4 regulation football. Will their eyes fill with wonder as they chase not one or two, or ten, but thirty brand new balls in a field? What will happen if we give these children the opportunity to experience something kids in our neighbourhoods take for granted?

Maybe nothing. Or maybe it will light a spark, not to become a footballer, but to realise what they have is not all they must have and that with a little help and a lot of effort change is possible.

I want to go so I can spend time with my friend. Our lives are busy and time is precious. Social encounters in our world revolve around weddings, birthdays, stags, nights out and a lot gets lost in the haze. He is one of my greatest friends; he sees no boundaries, no obstacles, no impossibles. He and his family gave birth to the Chifundo Foundation!

He’s a teacher in a foreign land. I want to hear his stories from that land as he teaches the children of Chifundo how to play the tin whistle or sing a Beatles song. The man is one of the most deadly five a side players I have ever seen, I want to play football with him and with every touch reminisce of college days gone by. A week of memories to last us past the next wedding or stag is what I want.

I don’t have much but I have more than I need. These children don’t have anything and need much more than that. I’m no mathematician but it would appear I have something to give. If I was in need would these children come to my aid? They don’t know I exist nor have the means. I know they exist and I have the means.

Why am I doing it? Because I can help do something that might make a difference, because I want to do something that might make a difference and most of all, because these children want someone who wants to make a difference. Or so I have been told…

“How much money do you give to charity each year?” my friend asked his parents. They totted it up and realised if they pooled their resources they could do something together. They asked a friend in Malawi what they could do with this money and the response was simple…education. The Chifundo Foundation started by sponsoring 5 children through primary school in 2007. To date they have helped in the education of nearly 50 of the poorest children in Malawi.

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