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Charlton Athletic defender Vanisha Patel recently carried out voluntary work in Gambia teaching English and coaching football to local communities in accordance with Kent based charity, GamBLE.
The player raised her own funds for the trip, organising a party to raise the majority of her backing. She said: "It was a touching experience out there, because the kids have nothing although they are all so happy!"
Gambia, situated in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Gambian illiteracy rate is currently 61%. GamBLE set up a school, named after and paired with Yalding Primary School, Kent in the village of Farato to counter these problems.
Vanisha stayed at the school in tents, during her stay where she deposited Charlton Athletic FC football kits donated by the women's team and inspired females both young and old to get involved in football.
Can you tell me more about the venture?
It is to build links in education in Gambia, so I taught them maths, English and sports. When we were out there we had a big football match and it involved locals and scouts. We worked a lot with the scouts. They were there after school and we often played football with them too. We worked with ages from 5-15.
Some people's communication levels were low so being able to talk to them in English could be difficult as they are only learning the language. Some of the older students were already good at football and they attended after-school football clubs, which I watched. Their discipline was exemplary and it is such a happy country.
How long were you there for?
10 days but we got stranded and ended up out there for over two weeks because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Were the people there disadvantaged?
The only clothes they get are those that are being donated, sometimes they will wear the same outfit all week, their school clothes are torn and often in really bad condition. When we went out we took donations with us. Every year they get new school clothes and equipment from the charity.
Charlton Women gave us lots of donations and football kits and after the big football match with the scouts and locals, I gave them out. They fitted some of the teachers as well as the pupils. They all really appreciated so much.
Did the girls play too?
A lot of the people were surprised that we had girls in our team. In previous years they have left it all to the boys and the girls watched or cheerleaded on the side. Some people knew I had played football and we played football with them at school. So afterwards some of the female teachers wanted to play as well and they enjoyed it - It is not something they would usually do but they had seen that we were doing it and so they thought 'why not?'
What happens now?
I have to complete my A-levels but there has been some talk of going back amongst my fellow volunteers. I would definitely want to go again in the future - It was an amazing experience.
Anyone wishing to find out more about the work carried out by GamBLE can do so here:
(by Colin Robertson)
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