A September Sports Illustrated article titled “Sports Saves the World” charted the progress of several organizations around the world helping combat poverty, AIDS, malaria and a host of other social issues through sports. Though not featured in the article, Albany’s Kalekeni Banda and his Guilderland-based Banda Bola Sports Foundation can be counted among those grassroots efforts. And for Coach Banda it’s personal.
As we celebrate our American Thanksgiving, 10 pallets of sports equipment and school supplies donated primarily by Capital Region residents are scheduled to arrive in rural Chituka Village in Malawi, Africa. Coach Banda will be on hand to accept delivery and assist with the distribution of the donations to underprivileged children of all ages in the sleepy little African town without electricity and running water.
“It will be as if I am giving them gold,” Coach Banda, who left the village in 1965 to come to the United States, said before departing for his trek across the Atlantic.
He would know because this is not the first time he has delivered supplies there. He was raised in the village, so he is intimately familiar with its people and their needs.
It was December 2007 when he first brought soccer equipment and school supplies to the children there, as well as to young people in surrounding villages. It was then that the idea of the Banda Bola Sports Foundation and the Chituka Village Project was hatched.
Children in Malawi face many adversities including extreme poverty, famine, drought, and diseases such as cholera, malaria and HIV-AIDS. Moreover, education is not mandated. While primary and middle schools exist, many of these schools lack the basic supplies and resources such as pencils, pens, notebooks and textbooks. As a result, many children do not have the opportunity to become engaged scholastically.
A typical class in a Malawi primary school has 60-100 students and one teacher. Most students have no shoes. During the rainy season many kids skip school because they don’t have dry clothes to wear.
With his effort, Coach Banda plans to effect change by working to provide the necessary resources. Phase one has begun and involves after school sports and education mentoring. His foundation has already partnered with local organizations, secondary schools and soccer clubs to secure volunteer mentors and coaches for the school children. Other partners will be cultivated now that Coach Banda, who lists UAlbany among his coaching stops, is back in Africa.
Before taking the field, participants are required to participate in additional scholastic exercises. Reading, writing and arithmetic are emphasized, and each child receives, at minimum, a pen, pencil and notebook. According to Coach Banda, the children feel blessed to receive these gifts, with the smiles on their faces revealing their joy.
“We want to ensure these children receive a basic education so they will have the tools to break the cycle of adversity they face,” Coach Banda said. “The goal is to stimulate young boys and girls to visualize, comprehend and even marvel at the opportunity for growth in their personal lives. We want to make an educational impact that lasts a lifetime.”
The Banda Bola Sports Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Among its many supporters is the Jack Brewer Foundation, which helped finance the shipping of the container to Africa. As you would imagine, fund raising has been the organization’s biggest challenge. While organizations, teams and individuals generously donated the items recently shipped overseas, raising the funds to pay for its shipment was difficult. If the Jack Brewer Foundation had not stepped up, the items may still be sitting in a Scotia warehouse.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all for which we have to be thankful. It is also a time for reaching out to those most in need. This Thanksgiving, please add the children of Chituka Village to your prayers. Also help spread the word about the Banda Bola Sports Foundation and the wonderful work it does. The words you speak may lead to needed resources and partnerships.
The children of Chituka will thank you.
For more information on the Banda Bola Sports Foundation, visit www.bandabolasportsfoundation.org , e-mail [email protected] or write Banda Bola Sports Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 105, Guilderland, NY 12084. The Chituka Village Project is the foundation’s initial effort.