How come some Brits that play cricket in Spain ended up in Serbia playing cricket with Afghans? Could it really be down to some Spaniards playing cricket in France?
Enter left Eric.
Last year Eric from the small Rioja based NGO, Ruedas Creativas, contacted Madrid CC, requesting help will the supply of cricket equipment for refugees. They had been working in The Jungle, Calais, and had seen people playing a game every afternoon with improvised bats made from old crates. Eric joined in, really enjoyed playing, and saw how desperate the refugees were for some proper equipment. After receiving his request, we rounded up some second hand cricket kit and handed it over. As the Jungle had been closed, Eric drove his van to Serbia to help a group of Afghan refugees that had been freezing to death last winter in central Belgrade. He started working with BelgrAID, whose primary task is to supply a hot meal every day in the Obrenovac camp, where over 800 men and boys reside. In addition, the NGO organizes much needed sports and other entertainment in the afternoon to provide a break from the monotony of camp life, with cricket being the most demanded activity.
Enter left Madrid CC
Madrid CC has been running its T20 charity tournament in La Manga for 10 years, raising money for good causes and saving money to build a cricket ground in Madrid. Until this year it donated money to NGOs but there the involvement ended.
After a successful fund raising T20 tournament this year and following requests for more cricket equipment, we decided to purchase and deliver bats, balls and stumps to the Serbian camp. As getting the equipment to the camp is a complex business, we decided to deliver it in person, visit the camp ourselves, and organise some cricket sessions
Club president, Jon Woodward and myself, Lewis Clark left Madrid for Serbia on Friday the 24th of August, 2017 with the luggage allowance maxed-out on both size and weight with 15 bats, 15 sets of stumps, and 30 windballs. On Saturday morning we headed to the BelgrAid base camp, known as The Warehouse, and found the daily cooking operation in full swing, with 3 huge pots of lentils simmering nicely and a group of about 20 volunteers chopping vegetables, sorting clothes, and preparing for the visit to the camp.
We met our "fixer" Joe, who showed us around and explained how the NGO operation worked. Following the bad publicity generated by the refugees plight during the previous winter in Belgrade, where the winter temperature drops to -20C, the Serbian government had provided a new location with improved facilities on a disused army base in Obrevonac, which is where we headed. As the camp is controlled by the Serbian authorities, access had been requested in advance and with a nod from Joe, we went past the security control without problems.
While we looked around outside for somewhere to play cricket, inside the canteen, the volunteers were preparing to serve 800 meals, brought in hot each day from the Warehouse. Hygiene standards are very strictly observed, which also limits the menu options for the chefs. For example, meat dishes can't be served as expensive refrigeration would be required along with a special license to handle meat. The refugees are required to sign-in on arrival at the canteen, and queue up with a tray, school-dinner style. The meal for that day was a lentil stew, with salad and bread, and peaches for dessert. Jon and I hung around with some cricket kit near the queue and attracted plenty of attention. A fair few of the refugees spoke some English and the more adventurous ones picked up the bats and took up their batting stance. We could tell straight away that many were experienced players and we announced that we would meet after lunch on the football pitch to play cricket.
We had originally planned to start with some training drills, but as it was obvious that everyone just wanted to play matches, we divided the players into 6 teams and played street-cricket.The games are short and everyone is involved, ideal for this situation. A wide range of cricketing talents were on show, from those who had clearly been schooled in the game, to the more agricultural types. The time quickly passed and soon we had to pack up and get back to the warehouse to clean the pots. The left-over food (too much is always prepared, intentionally) is later taken to a Serbian centre for the homeless. It's politically important for the NGO to be seen to be helping local people, and not just the refugees.
The following day in the morning we headed back to the camp for another cricket session and had time to chat with some of the residents. All of them see the camp as just a step on the way to a better life and for quite a few it's important that, where-ever they end up, that they keep playing cricket. After lunch we had to head straight off to the airport and back home to Spain. The equipment that we took will be distributed around a number of Serbian refugee camps and will hopefully provide a welcome distraction from the daily drudgery and stress of an uncertain future.
The trip was undoubtedly a success and will spur us on to raise more money and provide further help for people in need. I can't express enough admiration for the BelgrAid volunteers and their fantastic work, especially for those who will still be there in the winter when the harsh environment will make work so difficult. Hopefully, Madrid CC we will be able to repeat the experience in future years and build on this first visit.
A huge thanks to all who have made the trip possible, especially the teams attending our T20 charity tournament each April in La Manga, to those who donated equipment and clothing, and 3D Sports for providing equipment at a reduced price.
Also, a special thanks to Cricket España for their continued support.