I first joined GFF in 2018 as a volunteer based for three months in Kalimpong, India and two months in Kathmandu, Nepal. As a then 19 year-old, the opportunity to give back to those in need while embedding myself in, and learning from, a culture totally foreign to my own is an opportunity I will always be incredibly grateful to Sir Owen for. While in India, I worked alongside the GFF India team to run projects across their three learning centres in Kalimpong; as well as working in the office for the BSA Trust. A project that remains particularly memorable was setting up a village football program in Chibbo Busty.
I started out by running a one-week coaching class for passionate football fans who were keen to pass on their love of the game to young players. We had seven coaches who turned out for the week long class, and after some long mornings in the classroom and on the grass, we had a strong group of coaches ready to pass on their skills to eager young players. Also, as some of the coaches were based in Chibbo, we started inviting children down to train with us every morning from 6-8am. Word quickly spread, and by the time I left Kalimpong, we had a dedicated group of 20+ children, coming down 7 days a week to play football and improve their skills. And, given we had other coaches helping out, the project was able to continue in my absence. Seeing this project thrive showed me how far passion for community can go.
The coaches were willing to get up at the crack of dawn every morning to provide football training to children, receiving nothing more than seeing smiling children in return. After three months in India, Sophie (my fellow volunteer) and I moved across to Nepal for the two months, becoming the first GFF representatives to spend time in the country. Our main focus was figuring out how GFF could best establish itself in the country, so we worked alongside CDS (Child Development Society) who have extensive experience with development projects in Nepal. We were particularly inspired by CDS’ SEEP program (Self-Employment and Education Program), a microfinance education program in which groups of women learn valuable skills and are then given seed funding to apply these skills to start small businesses.
We interviewed women who participated in these programs, and were truly blown away to hear about how the program had helped change their lives. Many of these women were denied a basic education when they were children and never had an opportunity to earn a stable income. But, after participating in the program, they had their own income, helping them to put their children through school and afford basic necessities such as food and clothing without the stress they may have had in the past to figure out how to pay for it.
Since returning from Nepal I have continued to support GFF HELPS as an advisor and by helping with digital communications and marketing. Then, last month, I was lucky enough to be hosted by Saom in Kalimpong and revisit the area I spent three months living in, in 2018.