The following post was written by Mpumelelo Mbangwa, International Cricket Commentator and North Star Alliance celebrity ambassador.
This article originally appeared on SuperSport.com on 6 September 2011: Spreading the Word Through Africa.
My memories of standing on the side of the road with my long cricket kit bag in tow were rekindled when I took a trip to Malawi recently in the name of cricket, HIV and AIDS awareness.
I was on an assignment in my capacity as an ambassador for an organisation called North Star Alliance (more about who they are and what they do in a bit).
I was simply amazed by the number of young kids, both boys and girls, that turned out at St Andrews school in Blantyre to have a hit about and a bit of fun learning a few things about the game of cricket and also being made aware of the scourge that is HIV and AIDS.
The fact that these children seemed to come from poor families and had to make a real effort to get to the cricket ground resonated with me as it meant that they really wanted to be there.
After I came to love the game of cricket, I remember the longing that I had to just go off and play…even in the school holidays.
It was so fortunate therefore that there were a number of cricket clubs that I could choose to utilise in order to indulge my new-found passion.
A place to play is so important for the kids and the youngsters in Malawi are fortunate to have St Andrews offered to them to play and practice as and when the programmes are organised.
In Malawi, cricket is very much in its infancy. Although they have a national team, there are not enough Malawians playing the game at the moment and so the pool to choose from is very small.
The sport is quite some way from being an actual choice as a profession and those who do play do so because they love the game.
It was such fun talking to some of the kids about some of the big match-ups between the established nations that they had seen on the TV.
Some had not even watched cricket on the TV as ‘there is only football’ but were still amazingly keen on the sport and wanted to know more about it.
It got me thinking that there must be so many communities out there throughout the continent of Africa that are yearning for help in the way of the basics of cricket so that the kids can just play and be occupied by something that would benefit their health physically and mentally.
The organised structure that has been mapped out for the youngsters in Blantyre will help them to learn about the sport and, while it is true that they may never play high level cricket, it will give them an appreciation for the sport and they are better off being active and healthy.
More about North Star; it is an organisation that provides health care for truck drivers who transport goods by road up and down the continent.
At various ports in the many countries in Africa there are blue North Star containers where truck drivers can get free health care.
One can get treatment for a common cold or a headache and, in some cases, where there are testing centres, one can have an HIV test done.
These centres are also there to service the communities around the ports so the people around there can get treatment for colds, flu, headaches and such like.
In the centres there are peer educators to spread the word about HIV and AIDS so as to ensure those that live in the area are educated and informed about the disease.
It is a wonderful cause and I certainly felt the need to do my bit in the way of social responsibility when North Star asked that I get involved.
My trip to Malawi has just reinforced the feelings that I have about helping youngsters live well and steer away from the wrong choices that could lead to wasted lives.
SuperSport has a fabulous programme called Let’s Play and the enthusiasm of all those kids in Malawi reassured me that Let’s Play is a fantastic initiative and in our own little way, where we can, we should encourage children to be active so that they live well and are healthy.
I believe so much more can be done throughout Africa, I certainly shall be making the effort to do my bit. We all can do a little bit and every little bit helps.
I look forward to visiting Malawi again and also getting to other parts in the rest of Africa that do not get much exposure to the game of cricket or information about HIV and AIDS.