by Aziza Uko
Two days into the Samsung-Chelsea FC Dream the Blues Finale in London, 11-year-old Jep Mallam joined his team mates almost straight from the airport. “Jep is so passionate about football, we asked him to rest following his 6-hour overnight flight to London, but Jep said no, he wanted to join the training session today,” explained Charles Omofomwan of the SOS Children’s Village, Abuja.
When Jep arrived at the camp, he didn’t smile easily. Neither did he talk often either. He acknowledged a greeting with a nod of the head and he avoided eye contact with adults. “He’s a shy kid,” one of the organisers of the event told me. “But, I have never seen so wide a smile as when Jep was presented with his Chelsea pack. He grin was so wide, from ear-to-ear. I can see how much being in the Blues Camp means to him.”
Jep’s prim demeanor could be explained. He suffered tragedy three years ago when his father, the sole breadwinner died leaving his mother with three boys and a girl to care for. A year after his father’s sudden passing; Jep watched a Barcelona match, and fell in love with the sport and began to dream of playing football professionally.
Soon after his father’s passing, Jep came under the care of the SOS Children’s Village in Gwagwalada. The non-governmental charity organisation has two modes of family based care – the resident programme for kids who don’t have any family ties and the outreach programme for children who have lost one or both parents but can still live with their families at home. Jep belongs to the latter.
“There are no words! For real. At the SOS facility, we teach the children life skills, but there is nothing you can teach that beats this Dream the Blues experience. It’s practical. Its impact is undeniable. In less than a week, Jep has shown a personality that I never knew he had. It’s amazing!” Programme Co-ordinator for Jep’s programme at the SOS Children’s Village, Charles Omofomwan speaking on the impact of the Dream the Blues Campaign on the youngster’s life. “How I wish all the kids at our facility would go through this same experience. Words cannot express our gratitude to Samsung for making this possible and there’s a huge reward for the seed the company has sown into Jep’s life.”
The SOS Children’s Village, which is focused on families, provides support to Jep’s family and his mother benefits from a grant from the NGO to build a business. You can read more about the work of the SOS Children’s Village and how to support the organisation here.
The experience of a lifetime
“Samsung invited us to bring our kids to the Dream the Blues camp in Lagos,” Omofomwan explains. “Jep was very happy to be selected. We were all so happy. It’s been an amazing journey.”
In addition to life skills, Jep sharpened his ball dribbling and passing skills at the camp. He learnt that football is essentially a team sport and the camaraderie between players is essential to success. Training at a world class facility with the best of coaches is not all he took away, he also made new friends.
“My two best friends at the Dream the Blues Camp are Ishmael Mensah (Ghana) and Yang Jiajian (China). I pray we remain friends for life, I really like them,” Jep said, this time, with a smile.
To confirm this special bond, Jiajian showed up at the car port in front of the hotel, just to say goodbye to Jep just before we left for the airport. “Jep, bye-bye”, he said in a soft voice. Jiajian doesn’t speak English, he must have learnt this word just to say it to Jep.
Jep waved at him, saying nothing. Perhaps too moved by the emotions of parting from his new friends. It was an aw moment that will be hard to forget.
Jeb meets his idol
“Your dreams are real, they can come to pass, just work hard and don’t give up,” Chelsea player, Dream the Blues Ambassador, and Jep’s football hero, Fernando Torres told Jep and his team mates as he smiled down at them. Having met his football hero this week at the Blues Camp, a spring was added to Jep’s steps and his hidden bubbly personality showed up.
“I know I can one day play for a big club like Chelsea,” he said with a big grin after this destiny-defining meeting made possible by global giant, Samsung whose brand DNA is about making dreams come true.
Returning home, loaded with possibilities
The Dream the Blues Finale was finally over, as we, the Nigerian delegates, made our walk to board the British Airways flight bound for Lagos, Jep became unusually quiet.
“Jep, what’s wrong?” Omofomwan asked. “What’s wrong Jep? You don’t want to go home?”
“Don’t worry Jep. We have to go home today, but one day, you’ll be back,” Omofonwan consoled him.
And I added, “Jep, not only will you be back here, but you’ll stay and play football as long as you want.” He nodded, as if to say, “I believe you.”
And on that note of high promise, we walked onto the airplane.
YNaija was in London to cover this event courtesy of Samsung Electronics West Africa Limited