SILSDEN teenager Luca Marchini bonded with children in Nepal through their joint love of soccer.

Silsden Juniors player Luca took kit from his team to give to villagers he was helping during a visit to the South Asian country earlier this year. He spent more than six weeks in Tibet helping provide clean water to communities and training them in sanitation to stop fatal water-related diseases like cholera.

Fellow members of Silsden Amateur Football Club (AFC), where Luca’s father Rob is match-day secretary, helped him raise money to fund the trip. Luca has been with Silsden Juniors from the age of six to 18, most recently as a member of the under-21s team, and he plans to go to Leeds University to study Sustainability and Environment Management.

Luca was inspired to work abroad after taking part in the National Citizenship Scheme, a programme for 16-year-olds to train and raise funds for their local communities.

He said: “My team’s fundraising was for Brooklands Community Special School in Skipton where we raised £700 in one week through a variety of initiatives. Brooklands used this donation to purchase some sensory music equipment for their playground.

“The NCS experience influenced my decision to take a gap year before starting at university. I applied to work on an overseas project through the International Citizenship Scheme in association with Raleigh International, a sustainable development charity that supports third world countries, specifically Tanzania and Nepal.”

Luca had to raise at least £1,500 between last October and January, so he decided to organise a band night featuring Tom Lohan and Ben O’Hara supporting The Handsum Dogs. He said he received “amazing” support from the club, who give their venue free of charge, and many Silsden AFC and Silsden Whitestar players were among the 100-plus people attending.

The £900 proceeds were boosted to £1,660 with smaller events and donations, and Luca set off to Kathmandu at the beginning of February for a five-day training programme.

Luca said: “I was based in Bhitri Swarna, a remote community five hours’ drive from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. We immersed ourselves in the culture and tried to learn a little of the local languages (Nepalese and Temang) as well as their favoured pastimes. Luckily for me, the favourite in the community was football.

“We also visited the local primary school, where we planned to conduct sessions in the future. Wherever we went, stares followed as we were the first white people the majority of the population had ever seen.”

Luca’s team spent much of their first week identifying the existing living conditions of the community, including how many houses were affected by a 2015 earthquake, water usage, and what people knew about sanitation.

Luca said: “A significant part of the community believed that diarrhoea was caused by cold weather. The village on the best of days had only a four-hour window of running water. If reservoir tanks higher up the pipeline were faulty, people could go days without water.

“We worked practically every day, either by planning and conducting sessions or by digging holes for new latrines or pipelines. Our day off was on Tuesdays when we’d sometimes go for a walk. Once we ventured through the jungle despite the knowledge that tigers were most common in this part of Nepal.”

The team passed time by playing cards, playing football, and creating a volleyball pitch using bamboo and string. In their spare time they also helped local children with English studies.

Luca said: “The funniest parts were when the kids tried to repeat words with our accents. The young lad that I taught ended up with a bit of a Yorkshire dialect while a girl taught by another team member, Beth, started speaking like a Scouser.”

One highlight for Luca was International Women’s Day on March 8 which he said was important to educate and empower local women, particularly through a new women’s group the team set up in the village. He said: “Sexism is a significant issue in much of Nepal with women rarely being more than stay-at-home-wives. Domestic abuse is also prevalent.

Another special day for Luca was when his team took the local children on on a litter-pick.

He said: “Despite collecting a considerable amount we could hardly make a dent on the total quantity of litter in the area. Because there is no refuse collection service in this impoverished community the majority of waste is just dumped on the floor or burn. We told the kids why safely disposing of waste but important, to maintain the health of the livestock they rely on in everyday life.”

The team were ahead of their target by the midway mark of the planned 12-week stay, then they learned about the developing Covid-19 pandemic and were evacuated back after a farewell party.

Luca said: “Music was played long into the night and some of the locals got considerably hammered. Luckily I remembered my farewell gift to the community – handing out football shirts the people of Silsden had put together for me. I can’t stress enough how thankful the kids were.”

Back in Kathmandu, after a week of flight cancellations and stress, Luca was one of the last three out of 180 volunteers to get a flight home. Luca is now a volunteer with the Silsden Helpline, shopping and delivering prescriptions for the elderly and vulnerable.

He said: “The helpline has made a massive contribution to our little town during the most stressful times of the pandemic, creating a vital support system for the most vulnerable people in the community.”

Luca said he came back with an important message to deliver about climate change.

He said: “Nepali people talk of strange monsoon season timing and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, and if these are exacerbated it could cripple the agricultural market in Nepal, which is the livelihood of over three-quarters of the country’s population.

“It was thought that 2020 was going to provide a massive economic boost for Nepal, to take it above its current global standing of 166th. Due to Covid-19, this dream is now impossible to fulfil and instead of experiencing a huge tourism incline the country now faces a slump.

“I also want people to look at the work Raleigh and ICS do, not only in Nepal but on a global level. The projects they deliver are vital in improving livelihoods in the world’s least fortunate areas.

“If you’re someone of my age, consider volunteering. Please spare money so these organisations can continue their work.”

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