My favourite part of my job with the Craig Bellamy Foundation is by far and away my trips out to Bo and Kenema in the south of the country. I spend around eight to ten days there each month, offering support and guidance to the managers, coordinators and coaches who run the league in each of the regions. They offer a chance to spend some time with the local staff, getting to know them and how the foundation forms part of their lives. It also allows me to connect directly with some of the two thousand children in our league. I am able to watch them train, see their matches, visit their schools and see their community projects in action.
Each time I go on one of these trips, I try to take something with me to give out to the staff. My trips are full of requests from coaches for more resources from head office, which we do our best to fulfil. These can sometimes come in the form of equipment such as footballs and first aid kits. Other times I go down to pay them a monthly stipend, which they use to pay for expenses associated with running the team. This time around, I took them the latest addition to the Academy’s coaching staff – Coach Paul Westren. Paul arrived in the country in early January and has spent most of his time at the CBF Academy in Tombo, where he brings a new dimension to the players’ development. As part of the League’s commitment to professional development, I took Paul with me to Bo and Kenema to run a small series of coach education workshops with the staff there.
We set off from Tombo bright and early at seven o’clock for a short stroll down to find a car to Waterloo, where we would find transport to Bo. We were lucky enough to jump straight into the first car in the queue, giving us an early taste of what was to come. You see, a taxi in Sierra Leone is not like it’s European counterparts. Instead it is the equivalent of a small, very cramped bus that makes a reality out of the ‘how many elephants can you fit in a mini?’ joke. The norm is for a five seater car to fit seven people in. That is one driver, four passengers in the back seat and two passengers sharing the front seat. It is in these ‘two’ front seats that Paul and I found ourselves for the first leg of our journey, which took us as far as Waterloo junction.
After a short stroll around Waterloo looking for a poda-poda (minibus) to Bo, we were instead offered spaces in yet another car. Sitting squashed into a small car for a fifteen minute journey is one thing. A three hour journey is quite another, but it was our only option. We therefore jumped into the car and got stuck into a breakfast of Sierra Leonean doughnuts, pleased to be on our way. Then horror struck as the worst possible thing that could befall us on a journey became a reality. A fat woman got into the car. As you can imagine, this reduces the space quite considerably and the fact that she was doing her level best to spread out was certainly not helping. Having lost five kilos in my first five weeks in Africa, it still baffles me as to how these women become obese.
Paul and I spent the next hour and a half getting rather better acquainted with one another than we had hoped. This was made worse by the fact that the driver, in an attempt to maximise profits, had put three passengers in the front seat. That’s eight people in a five seater. The only real incident was at Moyamba junction, around half way, when the car stopped and we were relocated to another. Finally, however, we emerged in Bo with little feeling in our legs and a disturbing blend of eight people’s perspiration on our skin.
Paul coaches the coaches in Bo.
Our first port of call was a meeting with the Regional Coordinators and Regional Manager in Bo. They have done a fantastic job in January and there have been some brilliant community projects happening across the city. We had the pleasure of visiting two of these projects to see the impact that they had on the community. The first was a role play by the EMF club at a health clinic for breastfeeding mothers. The boys, led by an extremely confident young chap in his CBF t-shirt, explained the importance of hand washing and water hygiene whilst the patients waited to be seen. This was followed by a trip to see a well that had fallen into disrepair, but had been rehabilitated by Welding United. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the boys so thoroughly engaged in such good work, and particularly to chat to the locals about what the well means to them.
Welding United repaired and chlorinated a well for their January community project.
Paul’s major role on the trip was to run training sessions for coaches in the region. In Bo, he ran sessions with both Welding United and EMF, passing on some great tips to the coaches. His biggest impact, however, was made when he ran a session with all of the coaches and assistant coaches in the region, which he followed up with a detailed question and answer session. The coaches were over the moon. They are all so keen to improve their coaching skills that any training that they get is very warmly received.
We then went on to Kenema, where we followed much the same pattern. Whilst I met with the Regional Coordinators, Paul ran another excellent workshop for the coaches and assistant coaches in Kenema. We then visited an outstanding community project from Samba FC, who had turned what was a dumping site into a community vegetable garden. Not only will the crop feed some of the community, but the remainder will be sold at market in order to purchase water and matchday supplies for the club. Coach Mohamed Musa showed us around the site and explained all about the project.
Street Football International result: Sierra Leone 2-3 England
My favourite part of this trip was the impromptu game of 2 v 2 street football in which we found ourselves involved. Two young men just outside our hotel were kicking a ball around and before long, a crowd of thirty were watching England tear home with a 3-2 victory against a Sierra Leone side that was not afraid of two footed tackles on tarmac. It was fantastic fun.
Just under two weeks have passed since the trip and I am due to go again. From Thursday I will be in Bo and Kenema again, watching some of the football matches and visiting more community projects. Sadly, it will be my penultimate trip as I am returning to Europe at the beginning of March, ready for another football season with the Helsinki Wolverines