Footballs, Solar Power and the Hub

Could you fashion a football as good as this?

Charles’ nimble-fingered technique takes a little time and effort, and is fuelled by a passion for the Beautiful Game – a love shared by countless boys and girls running the length and breadth of Africa.

Useful finds of shards of bark, scraps of old blankets or scrunched up newspaper can be used for the core, but this compact ball is an exclusively plastic bag sphere. Which works perfectly.

Malawi, Kanthenga, Kasungu, Warm Heart of Africa, Africa, School, education, primary school, secondary school, children, kids, global citizens, future, global view, sustainable development goals, development, sub-saharan Africa, resources, reusing, recycling, waste, environment

Plastic bag bans are sweeping through Africa – Malawi included – but I doubt they will stop play. If Charles can’t find 20 plastic bags, he will scour the land and find something else that will do.

The average daily wage in Malawi is $1-$2, and for Charles and his family, friends and neighbours, being resourceful is second nature. As is working together.

Here’s how:

To the beat of their wives’ dancing feet, men dig the red earth to build the bricks that make their homes. Rich voices ring out as others cook to nourish them all.

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Pre-schoolers play with toys that have been skillfully handcrafted by the people of their village.

Homes and smallholdings make use of local materials, and waste nothing.

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The rains won’t douse the land until December, so despite a lack of classrooms, lessons at school can take place outside. Younger pupils sit sheltered from the hot sun by an acacia tree, all able to see the blackboard propped up against the tree’s trunk. Older children find patches of earth on the football pitch, shifting occasionally to seek shade. Those with books and pens store them in old seed packets.

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Kenneth and Margret (one of the teachers and his wife) use the sun’s light and warmth to grow this tangle on their garden fence.

As Margret and her three friends are busy bubbling up our lunch, I point to the vine and ask what it is. Bettie leaves her smoky station to show me “Sponge”. I assume that Sponge is the Chichewan word for pumpkin or gourd. But then Bettie opens up the fruit.

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And reveals what she and her friends have been using to wash our endless dishes. Bettie explains that the luffa plant is simple to grow, and with a scatter of seeds she shows me how.

Hot sunshine helps, but I’m willing to see how it copes in the cooler climes of Kent. Success would save my teeth from tearing open the devilish packaging that houses my own garishly coloured sponges, and would also reduce my waste – I’ve been taking notes in Malawi.

The hub

Kenneth and Margret harness the sun in another way too – they are the proud owners of a solar panel. Traffic in and out of their home is constant, as fellow teachers re-charge their phones and make use of the electric light to prepare for the next day’s classes.

Only 10% of Malawi is on grid, but tiny pockets like these are changing people’s lives. How much more could be achieved by children and teachers with a little more solar power? Or by using any of the renewable energy that leaders hope will transform Africa into the world’s cleanest continent.

Football-loving Charles deals with the daily reality that living in one of the world’s poorest countries brings. So does Israel, whom you may have met before. So do their friends.

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But they have spark, initiative and potential. They remind me of William Kamkwamba – who not long ago was a young boy just like them, living with his family in a village close to Kasungu. He harnessed the wind and wrote a book about it. It wasn’t easy, but he did it.

Recently William wrote an article focusing on climate change with the title “We should start small, fail fast and dream big.” I think he’s right. It may not be easy, but why not?

Resourceful links … 

Here’s how to make your own plastic bag football.

More about Rwanda’s plastic bag success story can be read here.

The world’s biggest solar plant is currently being built in Morocco. Read on here.




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