There has been a boom of volunteer work over the past decade. People have signed up and followed campaigns such as “buy a goat for Christmas”. People have donated money, materials and many private persons have even started their own collection; I was no exception.
Text and Photos: Marie Søndergaard
My volunteer adventure started in the summer of 2014. I needed a change from working 50 to 60 hours a week, to something that actually had a meaning – a purpose. I needed a point in my life instead of being a robot, so I went to Tanzania with the thought that I could coach some children in European football. The children loved it. I found some friends around Arusha, close to USA-River, where I could coach 56 boys from the age of 9-24. Many of them played in football boots without any cleaves and the goalkeeper did not have any gloves. This was the first time when I collected some money from Denmark to buy 10 pairs of boots.
Football was something that the boys played every moment they could – it brought them happiness, smiles and a hope of getting out of poverty if they could become the best football player. It truly touched my heart how happy they could be considering how poor they were. I had players passing out because they had not eaten for a full day, I saw children playing with a can because they couldn’t afford a football. Yet, they were still smiling.
One day, my friend Malene was telling me about her boyfriend from Tanzania and how he had reacted when he received his first gift for his birthday from her. He had never ever experienced getting a present before in his life. That is when it hit me “Every kid deserves a Christmas present”. This became my first “real” project. I realized in my naivety that not every child in the world receives a Christmas present. One thought lead to another and I created a collection on Indiegogo to collect money for Christmas gifts. That year I spend my Christmas in Tanzania to hand out Christmas gifts for street children and for the children living around the Kilimanjaro Mountain. I thought that it would just be a minor project but all of a sudden the local newspaper in Struer, Denmark, called to do an interview. I started receiving donations from Switzerland and people would call me to donate toys and teddy bears. Eventually, I had SO many presents that I filled 2 suitcases with 64 kilogram. With these I travelled to Tanzania where I managed to hand out approximately 700 Christmas gifts and buy school supplies for a village called Mbhahe on Kilimanjaro.
This project was overwhelming. I am sure everyone can imagine what it is like to give a child a gift and see how happy he or she becomes – but in Tanzania it was not just the child who got happy – it was the whole family. People who literally had nothing invited me inside for tea and bread. I remember a grandmother coming up to me crying and saying that she now could rest in peace knowing that her grandchild had tried to own something. It was so touching and overwhelming. Some weeks I had to take days off to comprehend my experiences and call my own family to tell them about all my impressions and feelings. A simple little toy, a car or a puzzle for example, changed their view of life and made this a Christmas they would remember. The Christmas, when they received a present.
I realized through this project that it honestly does not take a lot to make children happy and that I was not going to stop with this project. I just wanted to find a project, which could help them stay out from trouble as well. A present can make a child happy, but it cannot help them out of misery.
January 2016 I travelled to the Philippines. One thing I realized about Tanzania, and Africa in general, is that there are SO many aid- and volunteer organizations that it is a competitive market. But when you search in the Philippines, it is hard to find any organizations although there are some. But honestly, very few, which is impressive considering that a huge part of this population is living in poverty as well. So I decided to travel to Bohol and Negros to find inspiration and a placement for my next project. At Negros I found a small city called Kalombyan. It lies isolated in the mountains, with no wifi, 3G or even cell phone signal. However, there were a lot of people full of hope and energy to make the best out of the day for the kids. Yet, they did not have all the supplies they needed. I had several talks with the headmaster to promote the idea of doing a football project. I organized several practices to see what materials they had, how they children were and to get an overall impression of the village. The children loved playing football and wanted to get the best out of it. If one kid had a pair of boots, he would share it with his friend, meaning that two players now had one boot on. They really did not have a lot. I held a practice with 43 boys but only had 3 footballs. I met a coach who loves football and who is a true inspiration to the children, yet he is so unhappy that he cannot give the children what he really wants; a great football experience through a great practice.
This community wants the best for their children and they want them to stay away from the street and the trouble, yet they are missing the resources to, for example, having a complete football practice. A project can make that happen.
In January 2017 my new project is going to start – it is called “Footies for Smiles” which is a collection of football materials that a small group and I can bring to the Philippines. My goal is to make children happy; through football.
For me it has never been about saving the children – it has been about making them happy. I cannot save the world, but I can do my best to make sure that people around me are happy.
Many have asked me why I do not donate to other voluntary or aid organizations such as “Save the Children”, or something similar. The thing is, that I do not want to pay another person’s salary. If I am donating money I want to make sure that the donations go straight to the children. When I travelled to Tanzania I covered all my costs myself. I paid to bring the extra luggage etc. so I could make sure, that the money people had donated went 100% to the children and their community. When organizations become so big that people need to be paid in order to keep it running I do not see it as volunteer work anymore; I see it as a work.
If you have any footballs, football-boots or other materials, which is just taking up space, then donate them to the project. I can guarantee that they will be able to generate a smile amongst the children in Kalombyan.
No one has ever become poor by giving – I hope you will help me make this project a success by donating your football materials.
– Marie studies anthropology in Aarhus but is living in Tromsø, where is doing her exchange at UiT.
– She is hoping to get accepted for the Indigenous Master program at UiT.
– All her work is 100% voluntarily and all the donations are spent a 100% on the project – This is very important for her.
– The webpage for “Footies for Smile” is footiesforsmiles.dk and will be available from January.
– It is possible to follow the project on Facebook – Like the page “Footies for Smiles”
– If you have any donations, please do not hesitate to contact her
– Most important – help her spread the word.