Earlier in March 2015, a category 5 cyclone tore through Vanuatu with winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour causing widespread flooding. Around 75,000 people were left in need of emergency shelter, and 96 per cent of food crops were destroyed. Westfield W-League squad, Canberra United, donated over $5000 worth of footballs, football kits and boots to Marist College Canberra who were embarking during Term 3 school holidays to the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.
In a cultural immersion experience at College de St Michel, a group of eight Year 11 students and two staff from the college went to the Catholic French-Speaking school taking over the donations with them. Glenn Slater, Assistant Head of Marist College Canberra said that the “communities there are football mad and the Marist Brothers welcomed us so warmly and ensured that our stay was rich and rewarding.”
Coincidentally, on the 26th September, another group of eight Year 11 students and two accompanying teachers, Mr John O’Kane, Marist College Mark House Dean and Ms Loretta McNaught, made their way on a journey to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Approximately the size of Tasmania, Sri Lanka contains just under the population of Australia. Mr John O’Kane mentioned “there were ten of us and we nearly got at least 10 kilos worth of stuff each for them. We took half for personal and took the rest for the kids.”
Mr O’Kane and his group of Year 11 students went to a small fishing village in Sri Lanka and took many of the Capital Football and Canberra United shirts and shorts. Here they stayed at a homework center where the boys would teach there. “They have a school uniform but the equipment and facilities are very limited. We donated balls, strips and some clothing to the school. So what they would ideally like to start is a schools comp and get together and now they’ll have something to identify this is our team,” Glenn Slater mentioned.
In an impoverished, resource stricken country that’s suffered the destruction of a natural disaster, the children are still playing barefoot and sleeping with more than 50 people in one village house. During the time the Marist boys did a homestay, the kids offered up their beds for them and slept on the floor. The group travelled another 50 kilometres north to a town called Port Olry, here too they donated more clothing and balls.
“Sport is such an important pastime in especially in Sri Lanka and for them to have that sense of pride and looking really good it means so much to them. We had a gift night which we presented them the shirts and shorts, the boys absolutely loved it and the next night when they all came back for the final farewell the boys were all in their stripes, it was beautiful,” Mr O’Kane mentioned. The children with poor condition were still rich in other areas of life. “The boys were overwhelmed by the generosity, happiness and hard work of the Sri Lankan people,” Mr O’Kane said.
Unexpecting the gifts, Mr O’Kane and Mr Slater mentioned they had to be ‘discrete’ when giving the children the clothes ‘so there was no favouritism’ or ‘internal conflict’ in this case the Marist Brothers living on the island distributed the football merchandise out evenly.
“If you handed them your shirt you’d have a hundreds kids around you in minutes. Where John was, a pen’s a luxury,” Mr Slater told us. “Now they all have soccer balls. The balls definitely go into good use, it was like gold to them. “We have this soccer match where it’s Sri Lanka verse Australia and it’s a big afternoon for the Marist boys, it gets very serious but it was good fun. While we did have two boys who played football, our boys were well out of their league. The kids over there have incredible athleticism and extraordinary skills."
When the children finish school they aren’t going home to a computer or glued to a TV screen. The only luxury in terms of activities is football. The school’s P.E program is to pick up the soccer ball and go out and play soccer, “no matter what the age they, and they are very talented,” Slater confirmed.
“The Beautiful Game” once quoted by the Greatest Player of all time, Pele, didn’t title the game that by accident. Football has a unique brilliance of forging relationships and bringing people together with it’s culture. The competitiveness, the unity, the sense of belonging and connection one gets from being able to identify with a club or team. “They didn’t expect the balls or clothing. When we saw their faces they were very happy,”
The Marist group used up half of the box of donations from Canberra United and Capital Football. “We were really just limited by what we could carry which was 23 kilos. It’s something practical and something they can use,” Mr Slater said. “The boys returned humbled with a deep sense of achievement.”
The group are going back to Vanuatu in April and taking the remaining football merchandise back to the villages.