Alvie sportsman Charlie Johns says his volunteer position leading soccer programs for underprivileged children in Africa had been an eye-opening experience.
The 22-year-old Colac personal trainer is three weeks into a two-month stay in Tanzania, volunteering through agency Viva Tanzania.
Currently he is based in Arusha, travelling to different schools each day to host trainings with the Meru Warriors soccer team, officiate matches and teach the kids about exercise and nutrition.
“I’ve always had a fascination with Africa ever since I was a little kid, and I just happened to click on an internet ad for volunteering in Africa just as the international borders were reopening so I just thought, ‘stuff it, why not?’,” Johns said.
Johns said there had been many stark contrasts to back home, including the state of roads and shops.
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He said almost all of the roads were just dirt and rock and “you can hardly walk on them let alone drive on them”, while shops looked very old, dirty and beat-up.
Johns said many people also struggled to make ends meet, which meant children often struggled to afford sporting equipment.
“For most people, if they don’t work one day then they simply don’t eat that day which is why I think they’ve only had one very small lockdown which they cut short because people just couldn’t survive,” he said.
“A lot of the children here don’t have enough money for transport, which in AUD is 25 cents, which is why we have to go to their schools and why the soccer program doesn’t have a particular home ground.
“A lot of the kids’ shoes too are in awful condition.
“I’ve seen kids with holes in the bottom of their shoes, or they’re wearing odd shoes that they’ve found, or they don’t even have shoes and instead wear Crocs or thongs when they play
Johns said he had multiple duties as part of his volunteer role.
He hosts training sessions, umpires tournament games on Saturday mornings, as well as teaching the youngsters about stretching and nutrition, “which is hard given their living situations”.
Volunteers also play a major role in fundraising for equipment, and Johns had already exceeded his target of $500, and was hoping to add more.
Money raised goes towards soccer balls, bibs, cones, nets for the goals and socks and shoes for the kids.
“I’m involved in fundraising and trying to get them sponsors because the only income their program has is through us volunteers and even then it’s not much,” Johns said.
“And especially after COVID and lack of international travel they’ve had no income for a couple years until now,” he said.
Despite only being over there for three weeks, Johns said it had been tough at times, particularly seeing the children with so little.
But he said be able to help out had been very rewarding.
“The whole experience has been mind blowing, eye-opening and incredibly rewarding to see that I’m making a difference in these kids’ lives,” Johns said.
“Basically, it’s been nothing short of amazing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Johns said he would soon head to Moshi and climb Mount Kilimanjaro before crossing to South Africa for more volunteer work, but in animal conservation potentially on a private reserve.
People can visit https://gofund.me/b68cbd54 to donate to Johns’s fundraising cause.