Ipswich/Sierra Leone: Footballer volunteers at the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone
PUBLISHED: 11:00 01 April 2013
INSPIRED to pass on his love for the game, one former non-league footballer has travelled more than 3,000 miles to inspire youngsters on the playing fields of a war torn African nation.
Paul Westren bid farewell to the UK and his job at Kingston University in January destined for the war torn country of Sierra Leone to take up a four-month voluntary position at the Craig Bellamy Foundation (CBF).
The former Whitton United, Ipswich Wanderers and Needham Market FC player, was moved to help after hearing about the foundation, set up by the former Norwich player after he visited the country in 2007.
Best known for its blood diamonds, Sierra Leone is a country still recovering from a devastating civil war, which raged for more than a decade.
Child amputees, stunted economic growth and a lack of eduction were left in its wake when the war ended in 2002.
Five years on, the CBF is playing its role in helping build a better future for youngsters in the country.
Paul, who went to Westbourne Sports College, said: “Football is everything here.
“You see the kids playing on any spare space available to them, often in bare feet on dust pitches.
“No matter what is happening in their lives, football takes them into another world where they are happy.
“It might be just a game but it is a powerful one that can inspire.
“I read that the civil war destroyed more than 12,000 primary schools.
“Combine this with the other social issues prevalent here and you can understand why progress has been slow. “CBF is tackling this head on by encouraging the younger generation to become responsible for influencing change in their communities.”
The charity is made up of the academy and the youth league.
Paul is part of a team coaching the elite players at the academy in Tombo, a small fishing village off the Peninsular Road and an hour’s drive from the capital Freetown.
Boys selected for the academy receive a five-year bursary. They live on campus and receive all their schooling, meals and coaching on site.
Each day they train before and after school in preparation for a match at the weekend.
Paul, who holds a UEFA B coaching qualification, also takes time to visit other parts of the country to run coaching workshops for the league.
He added: “Visiting the regions gives you a real perspective into the daily struggles people face out here.
“From a football aspect this is real grassroots, although that is possibly the wrong word given the distinct lack of grass.
“Often the coaches have minimal equipment with just one or two footballs between 40 kids.
“It is a challenge but I am trying to pass on some of my coaching knowledge.
“I also get to see first hand some of the excellent community projects being undertaken by the teams.
“The priorities for this aspect of CBF’s work include key issues such as education, health, youth exclusion and gender inequality.
“Sport has a huge role to play in social development and the work CBF is doing in Sierra Leone is fantastic.
“UNICEF helped fund us during the early days but if we are to continue to grow and help more communities here then we need further support.
“If you are a local business you could sponsor a club in our youth development league.
“Recently an English Sunday League outfit Huracan FC, collectively sponsored a club in our league renaming it Huracan FC SL.”
n To find out more visit www.craigbellamyfoundation.org/sponsor-club/
n Or visit Paul’s volunteering page at www.givengain.com/activist/89843/projects/4331/