AFL in South America

In late 2010, I packed my bags and flew over to South America to take part in what I hoped would be the most rewarding and life changing experience of my life – Volunteering in South America.   The project that was assigned to me was in a small, remote village, 45 minutes North of Cusco (Peru). The small community was called Huayllarcocha, with 150 – 200 inhabitants, consisting of approximately 50 families.

One night I realised that most of the kids free time consisted of playing Soccer. An idea beckoned that maybe I could bring our great game (AFL) across to South America!  As an Essendon supporter (I know what you’re all probably now thinking, please don’t judge me) naturally my first thought was to send Essendon the first email but decided to e-mail all of the AFL clubs.

A few days later I received an e-mail from the Fremantle Football Club, saying that they would love to provide footballs, hats, DVD’s and promotional merchandise, FREE OF CHARGE! I really couldn’t believe the generosity shown by the Fremantle Football Club (FFC).  After a few weeks my parcel arrived from the FFC – included were 22 footballs and hats, 2 DVD’s and promotional material.

So each day I would teach them something new about AFL. Initially they were just happy to watch me (and another volunteer Jack) kicking the ball in the paddock, mesmerised by the irregular bounce of the oval ball. One day I decided to kick the ball as high as I could. The kids around were screaming and laughing at how high the ball could go, and those that weren’t already interested, were now staring in amazement! The football bounced off the tiled roof, and sadly for the football it landed amongst 3 large cacti. This set off a chain reaction, and within seconds, all of the kids were rolling in the dirt, crying with laughter. From that point onwards the kids really seemed to show an interest in AFL. After months of playing football with them, their favourite moment would always be when the ball sailed high into the air. They would always scream “Alto professor ALTOOOOOO” (This is not the direct translation but they meant, Higher teacher, higher).

The fact that the kids of Huayllarcocha were soccer crazy, and were actually starting to warm to our great game, made it such an incredible experience, I think more incredible than their love for our game was the playing surface in which we played on. A combination of dirt, stone and a little bit of grass, along with some of the obstacles that we encountered daily: donkeys, sheep, pigs and dogs! I wonder how Pav, Hill and Ballantyne would go?

To finish up my time in Huayllarcocha I gave all of the kids the footballs, the hats, along with the other bits and pieces within the box! Their look of surprise, joy and gratefulness, when I handed out the Freo gear was by far the greatest highlight of my volunteer experience. For the rest of the day all of the kids kicked, marked, handballed and tackled each other, whilst weaving through donkeys, dogs and pigs! As I boarded the bus for the very last time from Huayllarcocha I could still see kids kicking the football on the streets, and at that moment I knew that AFL was here to stay!

All of this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the incredible generosity of the Fremantle Football Club. It is a great testament to the club, that you were the only AFL club that was able to make such a contribution! From the bottom of my heart and from all at Huayllarcocha I’d like to say a great big thank-you for everything that you have done. Not only has the game of AFL been introduced into the village of Huayllarcocha, but you have also provided them with a gift, which will stay with them forever, a gift which truly brought joy into their sometimes unhappy lives.

Andrew Leask volunteered in Peru and Costa Rica for 5 months in 2010 and 2011.  He now has a second team to support!!

Comments

  1. Alovesupreme says:

    Andrew, what a wonderful story. Congratulations on volunteering and evidently doing an inspirational job, and especially on your splendid missionary work.
    Supporters of other teams seem to regard Freo in a somewhat patronising fashion, but they do demonstrate some real class. I recall the wonderful send-off they gave to Fitzroy, when the AFL of the day was just embarassed and wanted the Lions to disappear without fanfare.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Good on you Andrew.. Sounds like a great experience for all concerned.

  3. James Naismith says:

    Well done mate! I had no idea what u were up to over there, but from reading your article, it sounds like an amazing experience! Congratulations on what you were able to achieve, it’d be great to catch up over a beer sometime to hear more about it!

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