Football up a mountain brings hope to left-behind children
Two summers ago, a student called Zhoucong Feng and a group of village children settled down in front of a battered old television to watch a football match. During the game, one of the kids, Jianjiang Ma, turned to Zhoucong and forlornly said that he would love to play football, but he had never even seen a football pitch. For Zhoucong – eager to make a difference to the lives of others – young Jianjiang was just the inspiration he needed.
Eighteen months on and, together with his small team, Zhoucong completed laying the highest football pitch in the whole of Guizhou Province!
The new pitch was built near the sparsely populated and remote mountain village of Guobuga, perched 2000 metres above sea level. Over seventy-percent of children in the village are so-called left-behinds - those whose parents have moved to urban cities in search of work, leaving their kids in the care of relatives. In such a remote location, with precious little to do and no parental guidance, these children often face huge disadvantages as well as social problems that impact adversely upon their future prospects.
A student volunteer from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC), Zhoucong felt that football could provide a much needed focus, as well as fitness and recreation. He also wanted his volunteering period to be more productive than other students. It wasn’t enough simply to build the pitch - he also wanted to train children with the skills to take full advantage of it.
“Most college students choose to teach classroom lessons,” Zhoucong said. “With just several days available, I wanted to give them more than a week’s tuition could possibly do.”
If I teach them to play football, they become stronger both physically and spiritually. I think that is something more profound.
To help young Jianjiang realise his dream, Zhoucong posted an appeal on social media to raise funds. Within a week he was inundated with donations of football equipment and had raised over 5,000 RMB (around $800). Most gratifying, though, were the offers of help from seventeen construction volunteers. A mini-movement was born, which Zhoucong christened “Passing Hope”.
There were still several obstacles to overcome before his vision could become a reality, the most immediate of which was the precise siting of the new pitch. The only suitable level ground that Zhoucong could find was right on top of a mountain. To reach it, he and the other volunteers had to climb for two hours up a narrow path along a steep cliff face.
Yet the team set about the clearing and leveling the land, digging the drainage, laying the turf and finally marking out the pitch.
When completed, Zhoucong and his team began coaching the game to local children. “The kids loved it,” he said. “When they learned the basic skills, they just wanted to play, regardless of bad weather”.
But Zhoucong’s desire to make a difference wasn’t sated yet.
The “Passing Hope” project has since completed two more football pitches in Yuanqu, an underdeveloped area in Shanxi Province. The charity’s ambitious new goal is to construct twenty such pitches nationwide by summer 2018. Football will not be the only sport to benefit, though, as “Passing Hope” also aims to provide facilities and coaching for other sports, including table-tennis and basketball.
Together with UNNC staff, Zhoucong has persuaded several other universities - including Tongji and Nottingham’s UK and Malaysia campuses – to support the ongoing work of “Passing Hope”.
He sincerely believes that, with the companionship and focus that football provides, village children such as Jianjiang Ma won’t feel so isolated and insecure. Instead, Zhoucong hopes, they will acquire the confidence to focus positively on their futures.