Friday 15 March 2013
Fabrice Muamba returned to Bolton Wanderers’ Reebok Stadium this week to present hundreds of football shirts, tributes laid at the ground by supporters during his stay in hospital a year ago, to the aid and development charity CAFOD.
The shirts will travel over 4,000 miles to the retired midfielder’s homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to be donated to vulnerable children and young people who have become separated from their families through poverty and conflict.
"It is marvellous the tributes can go on to do greater good"
In the days that followed Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane almost a year ago, many jerseys were placed at the Reebok Stadium by supporters from all over the UK and Europe.
"I was, and I am still completely overwhelmed by the support that we got from all around the world,” said Muamba. “We remain deeply grateful for all the love and prayers from everyone. It is marvellous that the tributes can go on to do greater good, and I would like to thank CAFOD for their help in making this happen. There are many, many, young children facing difficult lives and they remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
Club chaplain Phil Mason, who supported players and staff after the incident last year, helped Muamba to pack away the shirts.
"The shirts left here by fans from all over the world made us feel like part of an even bigger family," he said. "It’s in this spirit that the shirts are being sent to children in Africa who love football and I hope that helps them to feel connected to all of the other fans in the world."
The decision by Muamba and Bolton to donate the shirts to CAFOD has been praised by the Premier League and The Football Association.
"It’s very fitting that the shirts left at Bolton’s gates should go to young people in the DRC, whose lives are very different to ours but whose love of football is the same,” Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the Premier League said. “I applaud Fabrice, Bolton Wanderers and CAFOD for organising this fine gesture, and I hope it will stand for many years to come as a symbol of the healing power that football can play around the world.”
"It’s fitting that the shirts should go to young people in the DRC, whose lives are very different to ours but whose love of football is the same"
FA chairman David Bernstein said: "The dedication that Fabrice has shown to helping others in the past year has been an inspiration, and it is in keeping with his generosity of spirit that he should want the shirts to be used in this way.”
CAFOD works in the Eastern DRC regions of North and South Kivu to support children and young people who are living on the streets or have become separated from their families, including former child soldiers. They work through local organisations CAJED and Centre Olame, who will distribute the shirts in the cities of Goma and Bukavu.
CAJED uses football and other sports to reach out to the young in Goma and help them access a range of other support and services including emergency, accommodation, healthcare, education and vocational training. Centre Olame works with women and young girls in Bukavu, providing services including education and vocational training, counselling for survivors of rape, and small loans to help women start businesses.
Bernard Balibuno, CAFOD’s programme manager in DRC, said: “The gifts coming to us from Fabrice and Bolton Football Club are a symbol of hope. In DRC we have a proverb: 'The soul sleeps at home and a tree without roots is short-lived.' Fabrice Muamba has not forgotten his roots and he is not short living.”