Right To Play, Mozambique

Way back in March, as I was returning from doing all the preparatory work for FootBallSmiles Africa, I met a special young man for a cup of coffee in London.

It was another one of those crazy serendipitous connections that happen all the time. He had heard about our project through friends and had decided he wanted to help in some way.

He offered to send some football equipment from a professional club in England, but, only at the end of the season, as it was actually in use.

I found a safe address to send the material to in Mozambique, calculating that it should arrive by June, when we would be there.

June came and went, we passed through Mozambique, went on to watch Spain win the World Cup in South Africa and, on the eve of the final I received an email saying that a box had arrived in at the Embassy of Malta office in Maputo!

Well, how about that!

Just when we thought our FBS Africa was over, we had one last promise to keep.

Jordi’s back was still giving him problems and it was a crazy plan to begin with, but, a promise is a promise!

After the World Cup Final, with two winks of sleep, I got on the bus to Maputo. Estimated travel time 8 hours. Real travel time: 11 hours with the driver threatening to leave all passengers without visas at the border.

The reason was that not only were they implementing a new visa system, but, the woman was having her first training day!

In the end, I made it, but, the 5 Brazilians on the other bus had to take a taxi for the remaining 90 kilometres.

When I got to Maputo all the backpacker hostels were full so I found a funky place within the budget and had a short sleep.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 13th, I was up to go and pick the box up before meeting with Right To Play, an organisation that works all over the world forming coaches and donating sports equipment.

They had arranged for me to visit two of the schools they work with, one at 10 am in a poor neighborhood in Maputo and one at 2 pm in the village of Goba, on the border with Swaziland!

Of course, we did not get to either place on time, but, hey! This is Africa and we are adapting!

Actually it was partly my fault as I had been unable to pick the box up the evening before, thanks to the bus trip.

Anyway, both schools were great fun as you can see from the photos and I got back to Maputo at past 6 in the evening, slightly tired to say the least!

At 7 the next morning, I was on the bus back to Johannesburg to pick my bags up and make my evening flight to Dubai, Paris and finally, Ibiza.

Luckily the bus trip took a bit less than 8 hours and I am writing this in Dubai airport!

Once again, I have to thank all of the people who made this happen as well as all the people who have so generously shared with all of the African children.

A special thanks to Jay and Watford for donating and shipping the infamous box!

A Muito Obrigado to Alexandra and Doutora Gizela and the Embassy of Malta in Maputo.

To Francois for putting us in contact with Alexandra who was our most precious asset in Mozambique.

And of course to Right To Play for making the time for FootBallSmiles!


Nazareth House, Cape Town

Sometimes, it is not so easy to find an orphanage where they will let you simply go and play football with the children.

There are all kinds of logistic and policy rules to follow, background checks, board voting, etc…

And sometimes, when we are accepted, we must decline as there are some of our own conditions too.

We would like to play with the children and take photos to show all of our wonderful donators and the privileged children back home and around the world how lucky they are.

In Cape Town, we were all set to visit the Khayelitsa centre that is being helped by both GrassRootsSoccer and Football For Hope.

Unfortunately for us, fortunately for them, the children would not be there as they were participating in an AIDS awareness project.

We decided to find an alternative and were rewarded handsomely!

Nazareth house, set in a wonderful complex with one of the most spectacular views of Table Mountain and the bay, has children with all kinds of disabilities as well as some with HIV.

On this marvelous day we were joined by Patricia and Sandra, who we had met in Mozambique and who had begged to help.

We have been to all kinds of places on this FBS journey, but, this was the first place where we got to see special needs children and find out more about how they are helped.

it was one of those perfect sunny mornings where there is a certain magic in the air and there are no awkward moments.

One of those times when everything just flows harmoniously and there is nothing getting in the way. Even the fights between the kids, just part of it all.

Even when one of the girls fell over in her wheelchair in her autonomous attempt at negotiating a small rise, was everything perfect.

Sandra, open-mouthed trying to save the toppling chair, in vain.

Her shocked and horrified expression quickly reverting back to her normal smile as everything was fine.

What was most amazing was to see how much better they all became as they became more confident and tried more often…

They were sunflowers turning towards the sunshine of our attention…and the beauty of it was that it was reciprocal!

It was one of the most “in the present” days of my life.

It is absolutely incredible what the human body is capable of, especially when nurtured.

Thank you!

And here is a little letter from them: Thank you – Football Smiles nazareth House

Soweto Two

FootBallSmiles day!

After having visited the Bethesda centre in Soweto, the older children of Bethany centre next door had felt left out, so we had promised to return.

As often happens in Africa, all of our carefully laid plans and meeting times were strewn about in the winds of TIA and we were hopelessly behind on our almost European schedule…but, everything always works out in the end!

After buying jump-ropes and footballs as well as oranges we set out into the impossible Saturday afternoon traffic.

We arrived in two cars, about 15 minutes apart, I guess Mama Rose knew a secret way to get around as we arrived first!

This was a new orphanage, but, as it is connected to Bethesda house, most of the children we had already seen were there as well.

They were all standing in a circle, singing and beating drums, all fully concentrated and involved. They hardly noticed us until I got out of Mama Rose’s car.

What happened next was amazing!

All of the children from Bethesda house came running up to me, showing me the progress they had made since our visit and asking me to show them the little hand and mime tricks I had so entertained them with!

I felt like their long-lost brother coming home…what a feeling!

This was the first time we got to experience this recognition and open welcome as we have not had the opportunity to return to the centres we have visited.

When Jordi, David and Gareth arrived, they were so happy that they did not even let them drive in!

They finally calmed down and let them out of the car, laughs abounding.

We still wanted to play football with the older children and make them smile as well, so we gave oranges to all to calm them down and then began to play with the older kids, 12 to 18, with some of our new friends joining in, others making music, the girls jumping rope or cheering with the Vuvuzelas, dressed in Bafana gear.

It was a real football party full of smiles!

Once again, thank you to Ash and all of his friends for making magic!

Cape Town next!

Durban and Soweto, Fifa, Friends and Music!

For our ninth orphanage we were carried away by the maelstrom of World Cup madness!

Our days here in South Africa have been vying to top each other in terms of amazing synchronicity, chance and laughter.

FootBallSmiles has definitely taken on a life of it’s own and we are simply active participants guided by our initial outline, the details happening incredibly out of our hands.

As our childhood pact was to see the World Cup in Africa, we also have to find ways to get to see the games and finding tickets is an adventure in itself. In our search, Jordi met David, a crazy adventurer from Zaragoza who set out alone without a single ticket and no English language skills at all. Through his contact with Manolo, Spain’s fan number 1, we went to the press hotel and Manolo graciously met us, but, had no tickets. As I have some friends on the Swiss team, I left Jordi and David there and went to pick up our tickets thanks to Pirmin Schwegler at the Swiss Team hotel.

When I returned, I found Jordi deep in conversation with Fifa television who wanted to follow us to the next orphanage. Cool!

There was only one problem, we had not yet found one!

In each town, after securing cheap lodging we set about searching for nearby orphanages, (to save on transport costs), contacting them, asking what they might need other than balls, if there are any girls, how many there are, etc…

All of our efforts until then had not given any fruit…but, we still had a day to find one before heading to Soweto.

The next afternoon, we still had nothing, then, Ben, the Fifa guy, told us he had found one that we could go to the next morning…Perfect!

We went about as usual, the only difference being that instead of being just the two of us there was a whole crew, even David wanting to be part of it.

After a beautiful morning with the orphans of St. Thomas in Durban, a wonderfully peaceful place well-run for over 50 years, we returned to our backpacker lodge and began assimilating what we had experienced…a mix of hope, smiles, love and sadness… How can we do more?

The Fifa report turned out to be a few minutes long, although we have not seen it, we do know that it has been broadcast on Swiss television…funny that I have spent so many years in Switzerland and that is exactly where it has been seen!

Lodging in Johannesburg has proved to be a stumbling block. So many games are played here, the prices have sky-rocketed. The first few days we had little choice but to pay, but, this time, the place we had originally stayed at was fully booked.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend of Jordi’s from Sant Joan, we managed to find a place with a family just near Soweto, our next mission. This is proving to be one of those serendipitous situations that reveal much more than initially imagined.

Thanks to the help of Connie and the Tsita family, we were taken to Bethesda, a super centre in Soweto, have been helped with a video and can bring to life a song donated by our friend Dereck…It is all Magic! As papa Joseph would say.

Our good friend Gareth, who helped us so much during our first stay in Johannesburg is still with us, learning about football and always wondering what new adventure we have in store for him!

FootBallSmiles is a constantly changing, smiling team!

This Saturday, June 26th, we have an appointment to play football in Soweto at the next door centre (for older kids), with 120 kids, Ash Tsita and his friends will make music and we will even have Rudzani filming…promises to be a fantastic FBS event, once again thanks to a lot of help from a few friends!

FootBallSmiles…When the children play!

Today is Sant Joan, the patron saint of our little village on Ibiza and we would like to take the opportunity to say thank you so much for all the support and,

“Bones Festes!”

May you all be like children and smile as you jump over the fires!

Dar to Joburg… World in a Cup!

Internet in Africa is everywhere… if you can find it!

When you do, it takes forever to download a few photos and by that time the place is closing…let alone write a blog!

So, here is a recap of the last few weeks through Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.

From Sombepa in Dar Es Salaam to Johannesburg there are a few orphanages and adventures to share…

Some funny, some sad, all enriching.

Dar – Iringa, uneventful except for wild animals hanging out along the highway.

Iringa – Mbeya, Baobab country and a fake ticket to Lilongwe.

Mbeya, Tanzania – Lilongwe, Malawi, worthy of a separate blog.

The title would be :

The long, long, long way to Lilongwe!

Fake ticket, Dalla dalla (mini-bus in Tz) changes in the rain, bicycle porters through the mud, pushy money-changers, shared taxi to Karonga, Matola (mini-bus in Malawi) to Mzuzu and finally a bus to Lilongwe. Travel time: 16 hours… Beautiful lake Nyasa and friendly Malawians the highlights of the day.

Lilongwe – Blantyre, bus ride supposed to take 4 hours, appointment with orphanage arranged, all ok!

Only one problem, bus took 8 hours, ran out of gas 3 (!!!!) times and finally offloaded all passengers onto Matola’s for the last 2 kilometres…
I joined the group of youngsters at the back of the bus singing their displeasure at the whole sham!

Blantyre was a breath of fresh air after a week of travel and Geoffrey Chipungu, the uncle of my ex Tahuichi Way player, Stafford, was a fantastic help. He organised another orphanage at the last minute and even drove Footballsmiles to the door!

The door in question was the utopia of orphanages…

The most beautiful, impeccable, professional and inspiring place for children, regardless of background and family situation.

So beautiful that no photos are permitted because things well done breed all kinds of strange creatures from Pandora’s box.

But, you can take a look here: http://www.kondanani.com

Blantyre – Zobue, Mozambique, another odyssey…
Matola to the Malawi border, 8 kilometres from the Mozambique border…very tough negotiations with the taxi driver, the only way to get there!
Bought a sim card for a super inflated price…
Missed the last Chapa (Mini-bus in Moz.) to Tete and stayed the night in a place with no running water, just buckets everywhere.

Zobue – Tete, early morning chapa to Tete, arrived at 7 am, dropped off at the bridge, had to take another chapa to get over the bridge, asked to get to the bus station, told that it was far away and quoted 100 Meticais for that bit…turned out to be 250 metres away! Gave the driver 50 Mets and was supported by the bus drivers telling him not to be greedy!

Tete, found out that there was only one bus to Beira per day, at 4 am! Just missed that one too!

Options: take chapas from town to town, wait 20 hours or hitch-hike the over 500 kms.
Guess what was chosen!

Tete – Beira, after 3 hours by the road with a funky piece of cardboard with Beira written on it, a truck finally stopped and 15 hours later, the beach of Beira was smiling at FootBallSmiles!

Beira, it happened to be the 1st of June, International Children’s Day and there were children everywhere, but not one orphanage in the phone book!
The children were all street kids, looking to pick pockets or something…very depressing, then it began to rain…what a day!

Beira – Maxixe, after the truck, a luxury bus at 4 am seemed in order…ha! First the taxi arrived late, then ran out of gas 50 metres from the gas station, then the bus had broken suspensions and the road was being fixed…you never saw people bounce so much! Hilariously painful!

The bags came out battered and covered in dust, there was a fee for the station toilet that had no water and no paper…pay for what????

I resisted and got on the ferry boat to Inhambane.

Maxixe – Inhambane, nice little boat ride across the bay, downpour on arrival that lasted exactly the length of the pier…everybody soaked! 5 minutes later the sun was shining!

Inhambane – Tofo, the chapa tried to charge 300 meticais… the real price, 15!

Tofo, the most beautiful beach!

Inhambane, the Estrela do Mar orphanage and the story of Joao, 15, abandoned by his uncle when he was 12 in Maputo to go and work in South Africa…He went to the police who said he had family in Inhambane, so they sent him here, only, he has not found his family so he is at the orphanage, the oldest one, responsible, calm, friendly, positive. An inspiring young man!

Inhambane – Maputo, another 4 am departure in a mini-van full of drunk and obnoxious backpackers mixed with all kinds of goods, babies and live chicken as the Mozambicans joined.

Maputo, as soon as the bus unloaded the last of the backpackers, it was off to find a normal pensao, more African. The 1 de Mayo orphanage proved to be another heart-wrenching affair as a father was leaving his two sons (2 and 4 years old) to the orphanage, unable to provide for them…moving and beyond sad as they wailed away.

Maputo – Johannesburg, finally a proper bus! Then over two hours at the border…World Cup fever!

Johannesburg, amazing party, vuvuzela cacophony and smiles of all colours and continents!

Opening Ceremony missed in traffic, stadium and game one fantastic fraternal fest… Viva Mexico! Bafana Bafana…Viva Bafana!

After the celebration, the children again, supported by our new friends Gareth McCusker and Daniel Pittaluga of South Africa and Argentina. That was eye-opening as you can read in the previous entry.

Durban next…

Seeing Action

26 Operations and still fighting, still not seeing.

Dorah is on her way, leading, showing that everything is possible even when you cannot see the way.

Nothing we have ever seen comes close to what we had the honour of living today.

Children of Fire.

Survivors, fighters, children who gave us smiles today…smiles we will never forget.


Sometimes we have to remember how lucky we are and give thanks and share.

Today is one of these days.

Share means ACTION.

What can you DO to help these children smile?

Do you know somebody that is in Johannesburg?

A visit to the centre in Melville might just be an unforgettable gift.

Do you know of a place where they operate on fire survivors?

An email can turn into an operation that will give new life to a survivor…


Survivors of a different caliber.

Johannesburg, South Africa…

Much more than just World Cup 2010

FootBallSmiles with the children thanks to help from friends and supporters all over the world.

Thank YOU Dorah for opening our eyes today.

May medicine catch up with you and open yours!

Sombepa Street Kids Shelter, Dar Es Salaam

After the New Life orphanage, it was time to try something a bit different…

I went to the beach to recoup and think about the next steps. The orphanage that I contacted was really cool, a small one dedicated to arts and sports!

It was perfect!

Except they did not answer calls or emails…

Finally, to avoid, wasting too much time, I asked a couple of new friends, Shadow and Coconut (yes, like out of a movie!), if they knew of anything suitable nearby.

Of course they said yes and took me to see, after having negotiated a price for the ride and information… Nothing for nothing, Rafiki!

Sombepa street shelter was a sight.

The kids were all slightly older, from 12 to 18 and had been rescued from the street. No stories were told, no questions asked.

The sorry state of the whole building, mattresses and pantry were exacerbated by the malaria-ridden boy lying on the mini veranda, suffering in silence as the chickens clucked around him.

At this point, it was clear that I would donate less footballs and more smiles in the form of food and medicine!

I went with the cashier/administrator shopping. With 50 euros I was able to buy them food for a month!
Some fruit and malaria medicine was thrown in for the stricken lad.

I looked at the things they were doing for the children:

Crafts class to make leather goods and drums, schooling and English were among some of the activities, not to mention cooking and cleaning for their communal meal.

All very useful…

For the future.

The present was more like food and hygiene!

Naturally, they are doing the best they can.

As the goal is still to play football, we arranged a game and the ball donation for the next morning as all the boys were not present.

There are no girls here. Easy to see why.

The next morning, Saturday, the sky was ominously gray, but, as we had an appointment we set out anyway.

Shadow did not show, perhaps because there was no sun? Or because it had been Friday night in Africa?

Coconut looked worse for wear and drove very slowly, the music reviving him with each suggestive beat. Of course! Coconut is a drummer as I had seen the day before when he showed the kids a few beats.

As the Sombepa home have no place to play, they had asked the local catholic church for use of their ground. They graciously accepted, being run by Brazilians, it seemed only natural!

We reached the ground and the deluge began!

We looked at each other, looked at the rain, at the field, at the brand new footballs, at the eager boys and laughed!

FootBallSmiles in the rain!

My shoes are still wet!!!!

We slipped and slid and scored, some with shirts and shoes, some with neither but all with smiles!

Even the boy with malaria played, laughing as if nothing had been wrong with him only a day before!

At the end, they made a circle around me and asked me to speak to them…

What to say?

The best thing seemed to give them hope, ask them to keep on going for their goals.
As there was some good talent there, especially Omar and Ibrahim, two Muslim brothers in this mixed religion centre, I urged the director, Geoffrey, a Christian, to contact the local professional clubs to come and see his boys play.

I hope he does. I hope they see the talent. I hope they will go all the way and then help others like themselves out. Pay it forward.

That is my hope, I guess it depends on them too. On their hope and on their action.

Footballsmiles on the way to Malawi next…

Hope to see you there!