As Malawi celebrated its 51st year of independence watching the Flames struggle to a 1-0 victory over a depleted Ugandan Under 23 side, a British charity were preparing to embark upon a brand new football adventure in the country.
On Tuesday Chigoli co-founders George and Alex travelled to Blantyre for a football experience that would be new to both of them. A former VSO in Malawi, Herman Fung, had put Chigoli in contact with Dr Andrew and Sally Feyi-Waboso of Sight 2020 – a charity for visually impaired operating in Malawi. Andrew and Sally had a vision to set up a football camp for the blind in Malawi. After an exchange of emails, and one Skype conversation it was agreed that Chigoli would travel down to take part in the initial teaching and development phase of the program.
Thanks to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, Andrew and Sally were able to bring with them specialist equipment, information materials, goals, bibs, cones and tops. The RNC and football coaches for the blind have been supportive of this venture, and hopefully next year we will be able to welcome one of them to Malawi to give a coaching masterclass.
The pilot program took place at Montfort Special Needs Education School just outside of Blantyre in an area called Nguludi. On Wednesday morning George and Alex went to meet Andrew, Sally and there 5 children at the school to learn about blind football and to offer advice on the best way forward for the program. We were greeted by 11 of the schools teachers, and with them we started by watching a coaching basics DVD from the England National Football for the Blind team coach. There are key differences in the way that people learn football for the blind, one of the key components is increasing the confidence of the children so that they are comfortable running forwards, backwards, and sidestepping. Then followed sessions on getting the players used to the ball. For those who have no experience of football for the blind, the ball contains ball bearings which rattle, allowing the players to know where the ball is. The DVD provided a good introduction to football for the blind, and with the information still fresh in our minds, we instructed the teachers to lead a session.
This resulted in a slightly chaotic start, there are 64 visually impaired children at the school, however we came out to a playing field with probably 2 times that number. Gradually order was restored, and we were able to clear the field and organise the children into small manageable groups, each with a teacher. The teachers, ably assisted by the Andrew and Sally’s children broke off into groups and started working with the children, building their confidence and getting them used to running, the movements and the ball. It was clear from the start that the children enjoyed the experience, and it was fantastic to see how quickly many of them took to it. George, Alex, Andrew and Sally worked around the groups helping and pointing out better practice where it was required.
After going through the training drills, and getting kids used to the new experience, Andrew decided that it was time for them to play a match. After consulting with George and Alex, it was decided that smaller sided games would be best, to allow for more players to be involved when in the game. Some children, as expected took to this much quicker than others, but cheered on by a crowd of children without visual impairment they grew in confidence, and we even started to see a few goals going in.
An excellent start, to a new venture in Malawi. The teachers will need to carry on the good work that Andrew and his family have started, and hopefully they can continue to work with the players to develop and promote inclusive sport in Malawi. Chigoli are set to sit down with Andrew and Sally next week to discuss the best way moving forward for the program, and how we feel the program can be best continued. The game is changing in Malawi, and with an organised tournament for girls in the pipeline for Chigoli, football is becoming more accessible for groups that have not had these opportunities before.