Culture & Character

Bucking the Trend

Two parents decide to change their lives and their childrens lives by becoming global citizens and leaving the bubble they felt they lived in.

Andre Baldeo

Living  in Cape Town, South Africa with my wife and two children, we had a comfortable suburban life: a nice house, cars, a good school for the kids and a big social network; but it was a bubble, and Becky I felt  that there was something missing from our lives. There were a few factors that led us to make this audacious (some would say crazy!) move to sacrifice  our comfy suburban existence and sell up. The most important was the opportunity to give our children a life changing experience to travel and explore the world. Our worldly belongings were condensed to a storage lock up, and we donned our four backpacks and headed into the unknown in April 2018, with a one way ticket to Borneo.

We were travelling on a budget and more importantly in-dispersing our travel with voluntary work.  Our aim was for our children to experience different cultures, climates, work ethics and more importantly to engage with people from all walks of life. After all this wasn't a glorified holiday - this was our new way of life for a while - and a way of enriching ourselves.

The best way of integrating into different walks of life is to get down to ground level as the local folk:  eat the same foods, use  same transport and if possible work with them - this way new friendships, opportunities and exciting situations arise. Through our volunteering work, our children's eyes have been opened and they have been furnished with many life lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Rico with the local boys in Vietnam

It’s a beautiful thing to see how sport especially football is a universal language all over the world. Standing in the town square of a small mountain town - Sapa - in Vietnam, we were watching some young boys having a kick about. One stray ball landed by us, and Rico, our son, passed the ball back. One of the local boys ushered for Rico to come and join in the game. And that was it…with just one pass, both Rico and I ended up playing football with a bunch of Vietnamese boys and dads for about an hour. No need for awkward introductions or talking, just a football and a few high fives and fist bumps!

Tiempo de Juego in Columbia

Our most recent volunteering stint was at Tiempo de Juego in Santa Marta, Colombia. This foundation offers an out of school hours ‘community’ for the local children; to engage in football, sports, dancing, music and more importantly the chance to equip them with life skills to take out into the world with them. The foundation is like a second home for the children and gives them a sense of belonging rather than the alternative of hanging around on the streets and falling into bad habits. After the turbulent past that Colombia has endured, the emphasis for football at TDJ is ‘Futbol for la paz’ (football for peace) - an initiative started in Medellin in the wake of the shooting of the Colombian captain  Andrés Escobar after the 1994 world cup.

My Daughter interacting with local Columbian kids at Tiempo De Juego

The children at the foundation would play football at any opportunity and by any means; with a ragged, deflated football, no shoes, on the hot concrete floor, in the burning sun - it didn't matter as long as they could play!  It was great for the children of TDJ to meet our children as it was unlikely they had  ever had a chance to meet peers from another continent, and despite the language barrier there was no distinction between the children as soon as there was a ball involved - united by the beautiful game. Our children thrived at TDJ. They were greeted everyday like heros, always warm embraces and new made up handshakes. I enjoyed watching from afar as both sets of children overcame language barriers, with gesticulation, motioning and pointing at objects teaching each other in the process. On the ‘la cancha’ (the pitch) no talking was needed, and it emphasised the power of football, and how it can bring people together no matter what their background is. The one other thing that stood out was the involvement of girls in all the matches, and the respect for women showed at the foundation.

A pick-up match of street football in Columbia

In this age of social media, the notion is that the world has become a smaller place and we are more connected with people over the world, but in reality we seem to be more distant from each other. People cast judgement about others, from the safe confines behind their keyboards without even thinking of the potential harmful consequences. One place where people connect is on the football pitch - no one cares about religion, gender, political views, ethnicity  or the like. At a time when the world is getting more polarised we need to use the medium of sport, music and dance to reconnect as a race again.

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