Joe brings football to Philippines
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
A FORMER underage football manager from Newry is in the process of starting up a youth soccer league in one of the poorest regions of the Philippines as part of an ongoing aid mission in the country.
Joe Smyth recently returned from a six-week stint in the Philippines where he bought and distributed rice to some of the areas hit hardest by last year's highly destructive typhoon.
Joe watched in horror with his Filipino-native wife, Chary, when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through her former homeland in November 2013, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The trail of destruction the typhoon left in its wake spurred Joe and his wife to take action and help in any way they could.
“I saw a programme about the typhoon that hit Tocloban before Christmas last year so I decided that I wanted to do some sort of hands-on relief aid," said Joe. "I organised a charity concert in Bellini's and raised nearly £900 earlier this year. We went over to Philippines in the summer and went to Tocloban to distribute rice.
“We were told that we had to go to the mayor, but if we did that there then the people would not have got the rice so we took short cuts. We distributed tickets from a house to give the rice out. The people came and were very grateful for this."
Joe spent six weeks in the Philippines, visiting some of the areas that suffered worst as a result of the typhoon, sometimes having to navigate his way by boat as the nation is made up of 7,000 islands.
"We then gave rice out to people in the Ormoc region which was hit hard too. We went to another island called Dumaguete, and then went to Cebu where my mother-in-law lives and gave out rice and tickets there. We also went to an orphanage for blind children, and once again we encountered red tape and weren't allowed in," he said.
With many bags of rice left over, Joe decided to give it to young Filipino street footballers - which led him to the idea of bringing his own football knowledge to under-privileged Filipino kids.
Joe was the popular manager of Lisgullion Rovers underage teams in Newry in the 1990s and he feels bringing football to young people in the Philippines can help get them off the streets and away from a life of crime.
“I asked my brother-in-law about starting a football team in the Cebu region. We started off at a disused basketball court for initial training with 22 players," he said.
“We went to an outdoor pitch for disadvantaged children for education and taught them soccer skills. They loved it; it took them away for a brief while from the destruction and poverty that surrounds them.
“If you could see how children live there it would break your heart. I have lots of old football strips from the Lisgullion days and I'm hoping to get them over with a view to starting up a soccer mini-league in the area.
“I want to build soccer from school to school to get young boys and girls off the street. It's a lot of work, but I don't care. These children have nothing and small things like a bag of rice or a football and a team strip can make a huge difference."
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