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North Van drycleaners organize soccer camp for orphans in Tanzania
Hauling dozens of soccer balls, Amyn Bhulji recently made his first trip back to Tanzania in nearly 40 years to host a two-week camp for orphans from nearby shantytowns.
“Soccer is the only sport they play there. It’s cheap,” says Bhulji, who moved to Canada in 1975 to be with family.
“They hardly ever have soccer balls. If they do, they are very fortunate.”
Joined by his nephew Minoo Kanji, who owns Lions Gate Fabricare Cleaners behind Capilano Mall, and three other coaches from the Ismaili Youth Soccer Camp, Bhulji brought 60 soccer balls, 200 jerseys and other equipment to Moshi, a city in northeastern Tanzania.
With help from the Moshi Football Initiative, the group held two sessions each day in a field near the shantytown — one for orphans and street kids aged six to 14 who go to school, and the other for those who don’t.
In total, 147 kids participated in the two-week camp in August.
“We were worried about the attendance of girls,” says Bhulji, 65, a former semi-professional soccer player.
“The culture there is very different. I thought we would be lucky to get three to five girls.”
But, defying tradition where only boys play sports, 27 girls showed up. That was enough to form two all-girl teams that played against each other.
“That was the most rewarding part,” Bhulji tells The Outlook.
Most of the equipment was donated by North Shore residents and businesses, who dropped off soccer balls, jerseys, shin pads and other essentials to Lions Gate Fabricare.
Soccer equipment is scarce in Moshi, a city in the Kilimanjaro region, even though the sport is very popular.
Hanna Jiwani, a 17-year-old coach, took off her boots, shin pads and jersey and gave them to a local girl on the final day of the camp. Unable to afford her own, the thankful soccer player will likely use the equipment until it is completely worn out.
“They’re still friends,” says Bhulji with a smile.
The other coaches, Shane Bhulji and Alnor Virani, also left their gear for the thankful kids.
Life expectancy in Tanzania is just 59 years, leaving behind many children without caregivers. There are currently three millions orphans, some whose parents have died from AIDS, according to Tanzania Orphan Help, a rescue centre for orphaned infants.
When Bhulji first decided to organize the camp, he tried to contact his former teammates but, to his dismay, only eight out of 26 were still alive. Many had only lived into their mid-40s.
“I only knew four had passed away,” Bhulji regrettably adds.
But there is hope.
Bahati, a six-year-old boy, is lucky to have a mother. She worked at a flea market while the young soccer player joined the camp.
“He followed me everywhere,” Bhulji fondly recalls. “I gave him a football, boots and jersey. This is one of my best memories.”
Without many options, most of the kids in the camp will end up as part of the working class, says Bhulji, adding optimistically that “quite a few are striving for something better.”
At the end of the two weeks, organizers wanted to do something special for the kids.
“We gave them Coca-Cola. That was a real treat for them,” says Bhulji, emphasizing how easily small things Canadians take for granted can leave an impression on the underprivileged kids.
Bhulji says visiting Tanzania brought back fond memories even though the region has drastically changed in the last 40 years.
“It was a real shock for me to see all the new development, buildings and roads.”
In the end, it was the smiles on the kids’ faces and the knowledge that the equipment will be used for years, that made the long trip worth it.
Bhulji and other Ismaili Youth Soccer Camp coaches are planning to visit four other cities in Tanzania in September.
Equipment donations can be dropped off at Lions Gate Fabricare, 987 West Third St., North Vancouver.
Local businesses can also get involved. Last year, Home Hardware in West Van donated 20 soccer balls, HSK Travel Specialists provided travel discounts and the Bread Garden put out a drop-off box for equipment.
For more information, email Bhulji at email@example.com.