independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Children of Tanzania give rugby hero real life lessons

Former rugby star and World Vision Ireland ambassador, Jerry Flannery, in Tinai Primary school in Tanzania.

I WAS exhausted. I have spent most of my life as a rugby player and you have to be tough and pretty fearless to put your body through that kind of punishment every week.

But I have to admit I was feeling more than a little nervous flying out to Tanzania.

I had no idea what lay ahead. Would I be faced with sadness and despair? Would everyone I meet be sick and starving? To be honest, I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.

It turns out I didn't have any reason to be such a wuss. The kids there were amazing. When I first arrived they stared at me warily, wondering who this strange-looking white man was and what he wanted. They were shy and nervous and I wondered if this was going to be a complete disaster. How was I going to interact with these children who were in no mood to communicate with me?

But as soon as we started to throw the ball, it was like a magic wand was waved. They started to laugh, the messers in the group started to mess, the competitive children started to push forward and the shyer guys stood back and laughed whenever the ball dropped or someone goofed around – exactly like any class of children in Ireland.

Every day, children like the ones I got to play around with die from tummy bugs. If a child in Ireland gets a bug they get clean water to drink and medicine to bring down their temperature. In places like Tanzania, so many don't have access to clean water. When they get sick, their mothers have to nurse them with dirty water, which often makes them sicker and many ultimately die from something as simple as a tummy bug.

Over five million children under the age of five die every year from preventable causes like this. We can't sit by and allow these children to die. Money raised by World Vision's 'Survive to Five' campaign will provide families like the ones I met in Tanzania with a means to support their children, so that they stay healthy and survive beyond the age of five.

One of my mates rang me when I was in Tanzania and he asked me if I was upset by what I saw, but I told him that the opposite was the case. I came here expecting to see misery, but what I witnessed was the determination and strength of a people who refuse to give up. All they want is a hand up not a hand out and like a rugby player grabbing the ball and running for the try line, they grasp the smallest amount of support and run with it.

Rugby has and will always be my main focus and passion in life, but this trip has opened my eyes to a world where most people do not get the opportunity to compete in a sport or in a passion they love. Their main focus is to survive. For me that's not the way anyone's childhood should be spent.

These children deserve any chance we can give them. All we have to do is try.

Irish Independent

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