- FIFA Legend Yakubu Ayegbeni visited community in Malawi affected by Tropical Cyclone Idai
- Former Nigeria international gave out equipment and played football with youngsters
- FIFA Foundation’s Recovery Programme looking to help affected region
Yakubu Ayegbeni had a storied playing career that took him around the world. Starting in his native Nigeria, he went on to play in Israel, England, China PR, Qatar and Turkey. Undoubtedly, this makes him one of the most worldly and experienced ex-footballers from Africa.
However, he was back on the mother continent recently for an experience like no other. In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Idai, the country of Malawi has been devastated, with thousands of people affected by one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.
FIFA.com caught up with Yakubu after the former Nigeria forward, along with the FIFA Foundation and in conjunction with the FIFA Legends Programme, visited children at a Community Centre in Nsanje, Malawi where people were taking refuge after the disaster.
Yakubu’s mission in Malawi
- Inspect the affected area alongside the FIFA Foundation
- Meet victims of Tropical Cyclone Idai
- Distribute equipment and clothing to those affected
- Play football with youngsters in the area
FIFA.com: Can you describe the conditions of the area you visited?
Yakubu: We visited the community centre where people had been living away from their homes because of the disaster. It’s really really sad. You see the tents, where they were sleeping. It’s hard for these kids, they’re just young kids. But they and their family, they’re still smiling even in this situation.
It’s so difficult for the community and it will be nice for these people to receive help, and for the FIFA Foundation to go there and try to help is really great. To help put a smile on these childrens’ faces, to make them happy, I think it was really good to try to help these kids and the community.
What effect do you think the visit had on the youngsters?
We put a smile on their face, but that’s not all. The FIFA Foundation are trying to build a pitch for these children to fulfil their dreams as well. Their pitch has been destroyed in the disaster and for them to go over there and help this community to dream of the future, they want to play football as well. It will be unbelievable for them, to give something positive to this community.
What message did you give to those affected by this disaster?
I just told them that they should believe in the future. Things will get better, they should believe in their dreams. It will take some time, but things will improve. The Foundation will be there to help them as well.
I was happy to see these young kids want to play football. They enjoyed the minutes that I played with them. You see a group of young people who have futures ahead of them, to become professional football players or anything else they want to be.
How important is the power of football to give hope to these youngsters?
That is the beauty of football. It makes people happy. With these kids, they were so happy to play – and share an experience with me – for the FIFA Foundation to be there, to give them kits and donate equipment to help them fulfil their dream, it’s really good. It’s great to see football making them smile again after this disaster.
What was the experience like for you personally, how did it affect you?
Of course, I felt emotional. They have been struggling all their life, and now to be in this situation, sleeping outside in their little tents… when it rains, they’re right there. I could feel the emotion inside of me, but I didn’t want to show it to these young people. I wanted to encourage them that it’s just a phase of their life that they will pass through.
For the FIFA Foundation to be there and present, it makes them believe that in the future things will get better.
Did the children playing football remind you of your own upbringing?
It brought back memories from my own youth. When I was growing up, I didn’t have money to buy football boots. I’m lucky now that I have the money to do that. I believed, it was my dream, to be successful in football. You have to work for your dream to come true.
With these kids, it’s the same thing. Whatever their dream is, with hard work and dedication they can overcome this adversity. I know what I’ve seen there. There’s a future for these kids.
Part of the FIFA Foundation’s initial visit to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe was to inspect the areas most affected. A plan will now be developed to support the reconstruction of football infrastructure.