By James Chapple, LONDON:Despite crashing out of Nepal’s top football tournament, Aldershot Town FC’s academy side return home today having won over a host of new fans during the club’s first formal visit to the country.
The near two-week adventure, between February 5-16, has seen the youngsters visit several schools and charities to whom they have donated much-needed sports equipment to various remote or deprived areas of the country.
The club’s participation in the recent Aaha! RARA Gold Cup tournament in Pokhara comes as part of the Shots’ ongoing partnership with the Farnborough -based Sahara UK charity.
Around £1,500 worth of shirts, boots and footballs were donated to schools and the Sahara Academy, Nepal’s most successful charity, which provides education and football training for underprivileged and orphaned children aged nine to 11.
During the trip, club director John Leppard and Navin Gurung, former President of Sahara UK, also visited two schools in the hills of the Gandaki region of western Nepal near the village of Dandaswara – Mr Gurung’s ancestral family home, which has long been associated with the Gurkha Regiment.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Mr Leppard. “To be invited so warmly into people’s villages and schools was really humbling. The moment we landed in Kathmandu, everybody has been so welcoming and respectful, we are greeted like celebrities and old friends.
“Their lives are so simple, and some of the facilities really are primitive. Only in the last couple of years has Dandaswara installed running water for the whole village, thanks to the work of the Gurkha Welfare Service and Sahara UK.”
Founded in the city of Pokhara in 1998, Sahara Academy’s mission statement is ‘turning orphans into athletes’, and is currently home to 25 children who receive a combination of classroom education and football coaching at the residential school.
The academy receives no government funding and relies on private donations and the profits of the annual Aaha! RARA Gold Cup.
Sahara’s most famous graduate is striker Anil Gurung, who has almost 50 international caps to his name and plays for Nepal’s top team MMC, having been part of the academy’s first intake 16 years ago.
Bhanjyang School, attended by Navin Gurung’s grandfather before he joined the British Army, and neighbouring Rangbhang School, provide education for around 500 children, some of whom walk five miles to attend each morning.
Joining the British Army remains one of the primary ambitions of boys in Gandaki, many of whom share strong familial ties with the historic Aldershot-bsed Gurkha Regiment.
As well as sports equipment, Aldershot Town FC is hoping to donate several computers and English books to Rangbhang School library and will assist Sahara UK with its plans to build a welfare centre and football pitch near Dandaswara.
“We don’t know how lucky we are when things we take for granted every day are not available to some of the friendliest people I have met around the world,” added Mr Leppard.
“I would urge people to open their minds to Nepalese culture, because this is a beautiful country. The town of Aldershot has always had strong links with Nepal through the Gurkha Regiment – we need to repay that loyalty.” (Get Hampshire)
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