As my fellow VSO volunteer Claire mentioned in her blog post, last Wednesday (5 December) was International Volunteer Day.
In Malawi, this was celebrated in Mitundu. About 30 km south of Lilongwe. Lots of different development agencies were there: UNV, Peace Corps, Progressio, JICA, WUSC, Red Cross and others, plus VSO of course!
The day started early. Our VSO group was catching a lift with JICA and arranged to rendezvous at ShopRite at 7:30. We caught a bit of traffic but arrived at the Mitundu Community Health Centre just before 8:30. We met volunteers from other organisations as they arrived and I embarrassed myself with my very limited Japanese with the JICA team.
Interestly, we met the volunteers and staff of Progressio who are running the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme here in Malawi. Then I suddenly remembered there is someone I know who is on the programme! We were introduced via email a good few months ago, back in Birmingham, UK. However, we have not met in person. In any case, unfortunately she was elsewhere that day so we still haven’t met.
The order of the day began with a parade of all volunteers and staff from the local school back to the health centre. There were quite a few of us. So the village become very crowded all of a sudden as we marched along the main road then through the trading centre. We were, of couse, chaperoned by a police escort. This is becoming a habit! 🙂
When we finished the parade back at the health centre, me and two Peace Corps volunteers were asked if we would do a live radio interview! They were up for the challenge. So I couldn’t possibly have said no! 2 minutes later, we were talking live on Mazzika Radio (mazzika means foundation I’m told). All done via a rather well-used Nokia mobile phone, it seemed to go fine. I’ve asked for a copy of the recording and will post it if they oblige.
The morning activities were mainly at the health centre. The UNV group were mostly medical professionals and had brought equipment with them to work. Doctors of various specialties, dentists, physiotherapists and other health workers set up for lots of treatments, including blood donation, dentistry and HIV/AIDS counselling.
At the school, JICA chipped in with an origami class, which was very cool. “Taka’s Club” had lots of eager pupils inside and the outside classroom as they produced a model Santa Clause to bring home and use as decoration. My fellow VSO volunteer Arthur braved dizzying heights and helped to roof one of the new school buildings. Somehow, in a totally unscripted way, Stephanie from the Peace Corps seemed to end up organising activites with all the girls. While I ended up with all the boys.
Obliging to chants of “Kung Fu, Kung Fu”. I exhibited my ultra limited martial arts skills with a few kicks learnt from my Tae Kwan Do days – Jean Claude Van Damme style! Followed by my usual party pieces: popping up from lying on my back and the “worm”. Only to be totally upstaged by a young lad who popped up then instantly front flipped! There’s more… he can also do the splits and tap his belly with one hand while hand-stand walking. Plan B required.
Luckily, I brought a whistle. So I retreated to the nearest set of goal posts and initiated a penalties competition. The quality of the shots was mixed. So too was the queueing! Lining them up to take turns was very hard work.
A few hours in the scorching sun quickly gone by and soon, it was time for the grand finale… an exhibition football match: Mitundu Youth vs Volunteers.
I’ll spare you the full match report. Honestly, it was all a blur anyway. Apart from a few high/low-lights in front of the largest crowd I have ever played in front of. I estimate over 2000 people had turned out to watch “total football” in action…
- At 1-0 to the Volunteers, I missed an absolute sitter. 12 yards out, bouncing pass from the right flank. Totally unmarked. Right boot. Laces. Perfect contact. Low and hard. WIDE! Queue facepalm, head in hand and almost Gazza style crying. Gutted… ironically, I think it made me more popular with the crowd.
- Trucks driving across the pitch at random intervals.
- Lending my watch to the referee, who did a great job with no lines on the pitch. At least he had a whistle, which kind of worked.
- Being called Kagawa?! (There are lots of Manchester United fans here, closely followed by Arsenal).
- Letting in a goal after subbing for the keeper. Though I did make a few saves and almost scored from a kickout.
- Post goal and match pitch invasion.
- Match ended 2-1 to the Volunteers.
- Being mobbed by a hundred fans was very cool (and a bit scary). By the end, my white jersey was brown from hand prints from all the kids! It was the closest I will ever come to being Cristiano Ronaldo or Hidetoshi Nakata. I’m tempted to move to Mitundu permanently for the notoriety.
Thanks to Dr Stephen Chu from UNV for taking lots of brilliant photos. Lots more here.