The last post

Home. There’s no place like it, but Malawi can be a close second. I’ve never been to such a beautiful country, such an amazing country, such a warm-hearted and friendly country, maybe I never will. Two months has flown so quickly, and now that we’re home, my time there already feels like a distant memory. It’s strange to think that a week ago I was camping in the African wilderness, enjoying the comforts of a warm fire at Muta falls. But I’m not sad that it’s over, I’m just happy that it happened at all, and so I have to thank the Tongole Foundation and Arsenal in the Community for making it all possible. I feel lucky to be able to say that I spent three months working in a country like Malawi as part of our project.

That’s why I would highly recommend Arsenal’s Gap Programme to anyone who wants to take a year out and do something different. It’s been an incredible year for me, the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made, everything that I’ve learnt and the experience I’ve gained. I think I’ve also been forced to grow up a lot. If you aren’t expecting it, then you can find yourself in the deep end of a situation, but most of the time all you have to do is take responsibility, and I feel that this year has enabled me to do that. At the same time I’ve had a lot of fun. Coaching in schools in London and schools in Malawi were two different experiences and offered different challenges, but they both allowed me to do what I enjoy doing. Coaching football has been really fun, doing double club literacy work has been just as good. Though I think the best thing about the year is that I’ve been able to represent such a brilliant football club and its community department. I feel proud to be able to wear our community kit and be apart of a very special community of people who do such great work in London and abroad.

I’m going to miss Malawi a lot and I’m going to miss being on the gap programme too. But for everything I’ve experienced and achieved, how could I not. Missing this just reminds me of all the good times I’ve had.


Yesterday saw us finish up the programme out here with a closing ceremony. It was a really good day and wrapped up our part of the project really nicely. I’ve noticed that in Malawi, like many places, formalities are really important. We were given a printed schedule of events that ran to time and every time anyone made speech, everyone that attended was thanked individually. We even had a guest of honour from Malawi’s Ministry of Sport, as well as journalists that had come four hours from Lilongwe.

The ceremony itself went very well. The coaches demonstrated some of the skills that they learnt during the course in a few short football sessions, which I felt really demonstrated what we had taught them. They even included why they used these specific sessions, explaining which muscles were being stretched and that the most important thing is to keep sessions fun and exciting. We then took centre stage to say a few words, giving thanks to Malawi and Tongole, congratulating the coaches and encouraging them to keep up the good work. After various other speeches from people at parks and wildlife, the district of Nkhotakota and the guest of honour, we went on to hand out the new coaches’ certificates – signed by the one and only, Arsène Wenger. We finished from there and took some time to take photos and have some food and drink with everyone, provided by Tongole.
It was a very successful day. I’m really proud to be part of such a great project where I’ve met some great people and had such an amazing time. So thanks has to go to Tongole and Arsenal for making it possible, for without them I wouldn’t be in this incredible place.Image

An interview with the Gappers! By Bentry

After being interviewed, Bentry decided he should also interview Cedric and myself! Here’s what we had to say.
Bentry: Cedric and Robbie, you’ve been in Malawi for almost two months now, and the programme is coming to a close – What has your experience out here been like so far?
Cedric: My experience over here in Malawi has been incredible. At first, I really didn’t have any impressions of how it was going to be. This is my first time in Africa, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The first thing I realised was how friendly everyone is, like yourself, the way you approached us when we arrived was so welcoming, and that has followed through in our time here. You’d never get that in London.
Robbie: Yeah, same really. Definitely the first thing that we realised was how friendly the people are here. People on the street talk to us, anyone will talk to you. They’ll come up to you just to ask you how you are. I guess that’s how we picked up the language. People saying “madzuka bwanji?” (how are you this morning?), “muli bwanji” (how are you?) It’s been a good experience because of that. We immediately realised why Malawi is labelled the warm heart of Africa.
B: You’re the first Gappers in Malawi for Arsenal in the Community’s (AitC) Gap Programme – How do you think it has gone so far?
R: It’s been very good so far, we’ve done a lot of work in such a short time. I think the project out here, coaching the coaches, is really important for developing kids and teachers. Most projects see coaches going into schools and coaching kids, but here we leave behind coaches with new skills that they can pass on to their kids after we leave and so it’s been really beneficial in the long run.
C: Yeah, the new skills that these teachers have gained will really improve their coaching methods. I’m sure Robbie would agree that we’ve been very privileged to be around you guys on this project. While we’ve been giving new skills to local coaches, we’ve also learnt a lot from locals about Malawian culture, and that has only made our experience better.
B: The Tongole Foundation (TF) would certainly like to have AitC here next year in Malawi – What areas can we improve on, if any?
R: I would say maybe stick with a few local schools. This year we’ve had a lot of schools and a lot of coaches which has meant that we haven’t really got to know the kids as much, which is a bit of shame because it’s nice to come here and coach kids, it’s what we do and enjoy. They’re such great kids who are such good fun, so it would’ve been nice to have more time with them. A structured timetable would’ve been quite useful because there were some days when we weren’t quite sure where we were going or what we were doing, but generally our time hasn’t needed much improvement.
C: I totally agree, we understood that the majority of the teachers wanted to actually coach and show us what they’ve learnt. That is the main thing about our project so we appreciate that. But I think if we also added our own sessions, they would’ve seen and picked up different ways to coach effectively as well. But they did learn a lot and do really well, and we saw a lot of good stuff from them.
B: You’ve also seen some of the other work that TF does in the community. For example, you went to see some of the families that were given chickens, along with the primary school that we support – What’s your impression of the other work that the Foundation is doing in Malawi?
C: The chickens that you’ve given to families is a really good cause, someone in the UK or elsewhere gives three pounds and someone here receives a chicken. It’s a great source of income for these families, the eggs can be sold, hatched or even eaten and the chicken can last a family a long time.
R: Yeah, local communities are really touched by TF. They do so much work in informing people that conserving the environment will bring money into the country. Keeping the environment thriving brings tourists to Malawi and they bring in money from outside the country. Informing them of this is really helpful, they learn that the benefits from conserving environment outweigh the ones that are gained by destroying it, which is incredibly important.
B: You’ve had a lot of different experiences out here – What have been your low moments during your time here?
C: Haha! Well, I understand that people around the world will always test your patience, in particular the police! We have been stopped a few times, but the only way to react to that is to be calm and understanding. I wouldn’t say that we’ve had bad moments, considering everything that I’ve seen and done, this could only go down as one of the greatest experiences of my life.
R: Likewise, I wouldn’t say that there have been bad moments, only tough moments! Having to say no to people that ask for footballs or equipment is one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do. Car trouble – haha! But again, that’s just how it is. This is Africa, you cant expect to have a perfect experience without any hiccups along the way. I kind of like that though, it’s more adventurous. We have to think about how much petrol and diesel we have, do we have enough time to get somewhere, are we going to get a flat tyre! But that’s been fun, I’d say that it’s added to the experience more than anything.
B: A I said earlier, TF would like to continue this partnership with AitC. We’ve been hosting you at the staff camp and we expect to host next years coaches at the same place – How have you found life at the staff camp?
R: I think where we stay is really nice! There are three beds there, so maybe next year there could be three people here! You could easily put in another bed to make it four. We get to spend a lot of our free time at the lodge, which is so beautiful. It’s right by the river and we see a lot of wildlife. We’ve had a lot of good times here. We’ve been well fed with a lot of nice food! And there’s WiFi which keeps us connected to home, so you really can’t complain.
C: I would say to next years coaches; be open minded. Take everything in, appreciate the difference in culture but enjoy it! The lodge has a very peaceful atmosphere, you can really appreciate the wilderness and vastness of Africa out here. The outdoor shower is pretty cool as well! It’s like being in a shampoo advert! I’ve seen so much amazing wildlife out here too, that’s really been a highlight of staying in the bush.
B: Thanks! Nice talking to you guys. I hope your final days will be eventful and fun, and I hope to take you around so you can see a bit more of Malawi!


Shai is the assistant lodge manager at Tongole, but he also spends time making carvings for the guests and us.

“Carving is our family business. My grandfather started it in the early seventies, even before I was born. He taught my brothers and my uncle and I learnt from them.We left Nkhotakota in 1989 and went to Nkhata Bay. Lots of tourists would go there, so it was a desirable place to sell our stuff.”