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Transylvania soccer donation to Gambia includes jerseys, shoes to Gunjar village


Photo courtesy of Transylvania Athletics.

Photo courtesy of Transylvania Athletics.

 

Most Transylvania students are likely unfamiliar with the Gunjar Community Football Academy. Nevertheless, there are three teams of African boys chasing soccer balls in Gambia, sporting Transylvania soccer jerseys.

 

The Gunjar Community Football Academy originated in 2005, according to Transylvania IT staff member Mambuna Bojang, who calls the Gunjur village in Gambia, West Africa home.

 

As the interest in soccer has grown in the past decade, the Gunjar community began to find ways to give opportunities for the village’s children to participate in the sport, a luxury that wasn’t afforded to Bojang in his childhood.

 

“Gambia has started to see a lot of academies,” Bojang said. “They love soccer. When I was playing [in Gambia], there was nothing.”

 

The Gunjur Football Academy is operated by former local players who volunteer their coaching skills to give young boys the chance to learn their beloved sport.

 

When it began, only 25 players between the ages 15 and 19 years old participated. Within one year, the academy grew to 75 participants. The academy is open to the community, but now selects 75 boys to one of three teams. Each team has 25 players and are divided into age groups: 12 to 14, 15 to 17 and 18 to 20.

 

The academy helps them develop their skills and become better players.

 

“So many of them have improved tremendously,” Bojang said. The academy is not only important to the children who attend it, but to the community as well. When there is a game, Bojang said, “the whole community will rally behind.”

 

Many of the academy players have also achieved success beyond the academy, with individuals receiving the opportunity to play in the U-17 and U-20 national teams, giving the community great pride in the program.

 

The Gunjur Community Football Academy is beneficial to kids, not only on the pitch, but off it as well.

 

The kids train five to seven times a week. After school, the academy gives the boys something to work for and helps “keep them out of trouble” during after school hours, according to Bojang.

 

Transylvania became part of the Gunjur Community Soccer Academy two or three years ago with the involvement of Parviz Zartoshty.

 

“Even before Transylvania got involved, Parviz has been giving me soccer stuff,” Bojang said. The first donations involved soccer balls, which Bojang was able to send back home. With the success of the first donations, the idea of involvement began to spread.

 

After Zartoshty spoke with Transylvania women’s soccer head coach Michael Fulton, the team decided they could do more.

 

“We tried to look at our uniforms and find some that weren’t of use anymore,” Zartoshty said. Having purchased new jerseys, Fulton and Zartoshty donated several groups of older game jerseys and soccer balls to the academy.

 

But it didn’t end there.

 

Zartoshty, who is director of a local soccer club, Lexington F.C., reached out to the local soccer community. A box is located at the local Soccer Center to continually take donations for the academy. “Any of the kids that don’t need their shoes or their shin-guards anymore, they put it in that box,” said Zartoshty.

 

In two weeks, nearly 150 shoes were collected for donation. Shoes are the academy’s biggest need right now, but shin-guards, socks and other gear are all necessities for the program.

 

Through their work with Gunjar, players now have a greater understanding of the privileges they have by playing in the United States.

 

“We take everything for granted here,” said Zartoshty. “When [the Gambian children] see a soccer ball that’s not flat…it looks like you gave them the world.”

 

In the U.S., it’s common that a player might wear one pair of shoes for a couple of games, and then move on to a new pair. But, Bojang explained that kids in Gambia may not even be able to afford one pair of shoes a year, much less multiple. His nephew wears the same pair of shoes to each game, and his friends frequently borrow the shoes to play as well.

 

Bojang is excited to send the cleats collected by Zartoshty to the academy.

 

“When I send it to them, they are going to have a field day,” Bojang said. He is excited about the donations, but is also glad that Transylvania is involved. “It is good for the Transy community too,” he said. “It is very dear to my heart.”

 

“We are blessed to have what we have,” Coach Fulton said. “Sometimes we take for granted that others are less privileged. It reminds us of how fortunate we are.”

 

The Transylvania soccer team is in a unique position to help these kids, because they have a common interest. Few sports are as internationally loved as soccer.

 

“Soccer is the most popular game in the world,” Zartoshty said. “The only program that can help these countries is the soccer program….I think the other sports will reach out and do things in the community here.”

 

Fulton added that it is great to have Mambuna here, to connect Transylvania to this community in need, and is happy to be in a position to help.

 

“This world is connected whether it be economically or through sport,” Coach Fulton said. “Soccer is a global game and other sports are not. This type of community service doesn’t allow us to be there and experience it in person, but it does teach us that you don’t have to always be there in person to positively affect an international community.”

 

The academy recently sent Bojang pictures of the boys wearing Transylvania’s uniforms.

 

“I was very happy when they sent those pictures…wearing my own alma mater’s uniforms….that, to me, is a really big deal,” he said.

 

“It was great to see them wearing our gear,” Coach Fulton said. “I feel like we are so wasteful sometimes and to see someone benefiting from our uniforms is rewarding. I hope the impact is long term and that it will provide confidence and some consistency for several years.”

 

Donating uniforms to the academy helps give these kids an experience that previous generations in Gunjur have not had.

 

“As a kid I didn’t have that opportunity,” Bogang said.

 

But the one opportunity he did have, was even greater.

 

In 1992, Transylvania was still part of the NAIA and Bojang was able to attend Transylvania on a soccer scholarship.

 

“I was lucky that everything worked out,” Bojang said. “I love the Transylvania community. It’s my family now.”

 

The opportunity to come to Transylvania not only allowed Bojang to play soccer, but to succeed academically.

 

“I consider myself as one of the few lucky ones to derive the maximum benefit out of playing soccer,” Bojang said. “It is quite obvious that I could not afford to come to a highly accredited higher educational institution like Transy without the soccer scholarship I was given in the fall of 1992. To this day, I still thank my brother, Lamin Bojang, Coach Charlie Spiegel and the entire Transy community for giving me the opportunity to use my soccer skills to develop myself academically.”

 

“I would have loved for those kids to come just like me,” he said. “It would be nice if they could come here.”

 

Even though children from Gunjar may not be able to afford the education, Bojang, Zartoshty and Transylvania have found a way to create opportunities for these kids to succeed.

 

“I want to be part of the bunch that gives similar opportunities to the talented children in my native community,” Bojang said.

 

“Whereas they may not get the chance to come to Transylvania, they could hopefully, use their skills to develop themselves professionally or academically elsewhere.”

 

From Transylvania Athletics.


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