Football Unites coach Desbon Bushiri and volunteer Sophina Hanif have returned from their trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they were working for the Football Between Communities project set up by Desbon in 2007 to work with children and young people, many of them orphans, who have suffered from the effects of disease, poverty and civil war. This was Sophina's first visit to Africa and this is her account of her experience:
My journey to Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa was an amazing experience. It was a dream come true. I have always wanted to do something courageous and brave but I didn’t know I would be travelling half way around the world to fulfil my ambitions.
When the plane landed and I stepped into the heat and dry land I felt my heart racing because I just couldn’t believe I was in Africa. I was greeted by many Africans who were so warm and welcoming. I thought I might find it hard to socialise and the language would be a barrier, however I took everything in my stride and with the help of the African people I was able to be myself.
I saw people carrying crops and wooden sticks on their bikes. Furthermore, I saw women carrying baskets full of food on their heads and babies on their backs while they walk along the rocky road. As I was swaying side to side in the car driving past I came across a boy who was eating a piece of paper from the floor. I asked him ‘Why are you eating that?’ and he replied ‘Well what else am I supposed to eat? I am so hungry, no one else can give me some food and I need to feed my hunger’! My heart sank and my tears started to flow down my cheeks. I felt his pain because I visualised myself being in his position and feeling the way he was feeling.
I attended a primary school where I was greeted by 200 children. They sang and acted out a few historical scenes for me. The classroom conditions were awful. The teachers were working voluntarily and they had no means of income. I was told that the majority of the children in the school were orphans. I asked the children what is their dream and one of the kids started to cry and he said ‘What dream? I don’t know if I am going to live or die in the next 10mins and no-one cares about me’. It was so hard not to cry. I knew I couldn’t due to the fact I had to reassure them and give them hope. I saw a child outside the school sat under a mango tree crying. I asked him ‘What’s the matter? Why are you not at school?’ he replied ‘My parent’s didn’t pay my school fee’. I then went on to ask ‘how much is it?’ he answered ‘£2 a month’. Once again I felt so emotional. In Africa people are very hardworking and down to earth however because of the fighting and many disputes the country has been portrayed into a bad light. The situation now is calming down. People are slowly coming together and forming a unity bond.
Football Inter Communautaire (FIC) is helping the tribes to come together and also helping them appreciate each other’s views and opinions. There are people working as volunteers at the office which is based in Baraka. The project helps all vulnerable people who need help. It works close with schools and neighbouring communities. Football brings everyone together and that’s why FIC is so important for the development of Africa.
My time at D R Congo has reinforced the way I live my life and what I stand for. Doing volunteer work at Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) has helped me to reach my goals. I believe everyone should experience what I’ve experienced. The project I am supporting is very special and I am hoping everyone in the UK will be donating and helping the organisation to gradually improve and change the African people’s lives forever.
This is one experience I will never ever forget. The memories and images in my head will hopefully remain with me. As long as I am living I will continue talking about Africa and its people. This is just the beginning and I know FIC has a bright future. Like the Africans say, ‘‘Matumaini bora kwa vijana wenye nguvu, mahungano na wa herevu"( Swahili) - Une jeunesse Forte, Unifiee et Consciente (French) - A Hope for a stronger Youth, Unified and Conscious.
I have to thank everyone at Football Unites, Racism Divides, for their kind support. I thank the man who made my dream came true for his guidance and support, and travel all the way through to DR Congo via Burundi in Africa, in the person of Desbon Bushiri, Founder and Coordinator, Football Inter-Communautaire (Football Between Communities) FIC Sud Kivu. I would like also to thank FIC Workers in Baraka and Uvira for their hospitality and support.
Sophina was interviewed about her trip on Sheffield Live community radio station on 17th October, on the 'Talking Balls' sports programme. You can listen again to the show via the link at the bottom of this page.