Refugee Cricket Project bowled over with joy at Lords and Brighton beach
Tuesday 11th July was a big day for the Refugee Cricket Project (‘RCP’) and especially for our young people. It was the day Afghanistan’s national cricket team played for the first time ever at Lords against a Marylebone Cricket Club (‘MCC’) side made up of some of the best cricket players from all over the world.
Our first challenge was to get 38 excited young refugees to north London via public transport. We split into groups, with each young person having the letter of their group written on their hand and helped by this we managed to make our way during peak time to Lords, even though, alarmingly, the group didn’t seem to all fit into the same tube compartment. The next excitement was a chance meeting at St John’s Wood tube with Michael Atherton, former captain of England and now a journalist. After many selfies were taken a bemused Mike asked our group leader, Antonia, to explain who we were which led to this great piece in The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/sport/mike-atherton-watching-afghanistan-play-was-my-most-uplifting-day-at-lords-m0pcx2m59
As we arrived at the stadium you could feel the boys’ growing excitement about seeing their idols. For many of them it was the first time they had gone to Lords and the first time they had had the chance to see the Afghan team playing.
We had very good seats kindly provided by the Marylebone Cricket Club and rain jackets kindly provided by Cheltenham College and with the Afghan national colours on scarves, shirts and faces we were ready to soak up every moment of this special day.
Unfortunately ‘soak’ was the relevant word but although the game was interrupted by torrential rain, the boys did see Afghanistan bowl at the MCC team for 40 glorious overs. Sadly rain stopped all play after only 5.3 overs of the Afghan innings and the match had to be abandoned.
However the breaks caused by the weather conditions were used to chat and spend time together. For me it was a good time to get to know the boys a bit better. They told me their stories, things about their daily life and dreams. And I was taught how to eat sunflower seeds, using one finger, one thumb and two teeth to get the seed out of its shell.
Although the boys didn’t get to see the whole game and the weather wasn’t the best, they had the fantastic experience of being at such a special match and were also able to see the huge support from the Afghan community who had made such an effort to come to the match.
But this wasn’t the only exciting day this week for our boys.
On Thursday Antonia and I had the chance to take 13 of our players to Falmer, close to Brighton. This time, equipped with big bags filled with pads, wicket keeping gloves, helmets, bats and other necessary kit we made our way to the south by train. The group couldn’t be missed by anybody on the train and one of our boys started a conversation with a kind passenger, who tried to teach him how to do word puzzles in the Times edition that also included Michael Atherton’s article.
After we arrived at the Aldridge Cricket Academy (ACA), the boys changed into their kit and ate the packed lunch made up of leftovers from the regular RCP training session the night before. They then started to warm up very seriously helping each other with their stretches and some fielding practice. This time we were lucky with the weather and the mixture of sun and a sea breeze provided excellent conditions. It is a lovely ground and beautifully maintained.
ACA batted first and set the RCP a target of 217 (off 30 overs). Unfortunately we fell short by 20 runs but it was an exciting match and much enjoyed by all.
Although disappointed by the loss, the boys were very happy to have had the opportunity to play such a good side. They congratulated ACA on their victory and thanked them for the delicious tea.
As the boys packed the kit bags up and helped clear up the pitch, Antonia was calling some of the carers of the younger boys. Why? Even after a long day the boys were desperate to go to the seaside at Brighton. Our group of 15 made our way there and the amazing thing was yet to come. Could you imagine fleeing almost half way round the world but not seeing the sea? Three of the boys had never seen the sea before. The look in their eyes and their huge smiles when they reached the seaside were indescribable! Most of them ran into the sea, some still in their cricket kit. After a short while a woman came up to Antonia and said "I just had to tell you it's so rare to see such pure happiness".
It was soon time to get back to the train station but the boys were enjoying the sea and taking loads of pictures. Some had to change out of their own wet cricket kit into other people’s dry kit. Needless to say we ended up running up the hill to the station and only just managed to get on the packed train with all our kit and despite one of the party being unable to get through the barrier with his very soggy train ticket.
Finally we got back, tired and a little bit wet but definitely very happy about this amazing and memorable day. I am so grateful to see good things happening in the boys’ lives. Although they’ve gone through so many sad, disappointing and harmful things they can still express their joy in a ‘pure’ way which touches my heart. When they arrive here it doesn’t mean that from that moment everything in their lives is good, in fact they have to overcome many obstacles and often wait a long time for their decisions on their asylum claims. And sometimes those decisions are not positive for them. But because of this it is even more satisfying to be able to offer them a nice day trip and sometimes just the chance to have someone listen to them. I thank everybody who is making this possible; sometimes you don’t know what impact a big or small contribution of money or time makes, but when you see it is stunning!
Barbara Hinkel is a social work student from Germany currently on placement at the Refugee Council Children’s Section. She has also been volunteering at the Refugee Cricket Project.