Abby Halder traveled to Malawi with Woza in 2017 where she spent nearly three weeks working with Chigoli Academy. During Thanksgiving, she took time to reflect on her experience in Malawi and the impact the gear she donated had on the community. Below is an excerpt from an email she sent out to friends and family thanking them for gear and monetary donations to support her experience in Malawi.
As the year is coming to an end, I’m reflecting on all the things that I am thankful for this year, I just wanted to give a special thanks to all of you who, through your donations, support and kind messages, made my soccer service trip to Malawi this year so incredibly special.
In the end, I was able to take over 60 balls, 80 cleats, and 20 sets of uniforms to Chigoli Soccer Academy to help support their players across the country. Some of my most vivid memories from the trip were when we were giving out this gear to the local players. Although we did not speak the language, the smiles that spread across their faces were worth a thousand words.
This gear not only provided the players and kids with better equipment, but also a genuine happiness that seemed comparable to Christmas morning. I will never forget donating a set of 12 uniforms and several balls to an adult men’s team of Safari Guides and watching a grown 50-something-year-old man jump up and down, giddy as a child as he put on his new uniform and held the new ball. Many of the players we encountered didn’t have shoes, much less cleats, and played with balls made out of garbage and tires. These small items meant so much more than I could have ever imagined.
This example was one of many as we handed out gear to players across the country (in addition to the academy players themselves) and watched them react the same way. To put this into context: Many of these kids lacked adequate nutrition in their diets, and the vast majority of students don’t progress past secondary education. In these villages, the kids we played with were generally between the ages of 5-25 and were almost exclusively boys, since most girls had household duties, which included looking after younger siblings, and in some instances, their own children.
Playing soccer and spending time with these children was so powerful and inspiring. They are the most genuinely kind and happy people I have ever met. Nowhere is this more clear than when they touch a soccer ball. Nearly everyone in the whole country plays the game, as it is their life, escape and, in some cases, their home. A place where everyone is on equal ground and is free to do and explore whatever they want to. That probably explains why they are some of the best players I have ever met.
During our trip, we truly got to explore how soccer acts as a universal language connecting cultures from across the globe under a united love for the game. Through this trip, I have truly changed as a person and of course as a soccer player (Especially training with the U-14 boys, who were better than me and most of the girls I know that are my age).
Chigoli Academy, who I had the privilege of working with for the time I was there, is truly an unbelievable organization doing such incredible things for these kids. They are providing hope into the lives of many who need it most. Talking to George, the founder of Chigoli, we heard stories about the backgrounds that their players come from including child abuse, sexual abuse and refugee camps. But even more incredible is their newly formed girls program, which is helping save the lives of girls who generally live even harsher lives than boys.
If any of you are interested in getting more information about Chigoli or even sponsoring a player, I provided the links: http://www.chigoli.org/sponsoraplayer/