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Coquitlam man gives gifts to Guinea
It’s been two months since Djiba Camara returned from his long-awaited trip home to Guinea but the Coquitlam man is already planning to return to Africa — this time with more gifts to help his former countrymen improve their lives.
The trip to his homeland was “life changing” for the soccer coach, who plans another trip in the summer.
As he suspected, nothing was simple in his efforts to get to the land of his birth. Dropping off the donated contents of his shipping container proved to be no easy task. He had spent months collecting clothes, electronics, sports equipment, uniforms and even sewing machines from Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship members and colleagues at Langley’s H.D. Stafford middle school, where he teaches PE.
But for a while, it looked like his efforts would be wasted.
Finally, after days of waiting and worrying, he was told he could unload the container in the dark of night using flashlights, with police officers standing guard. The officers were there as much for his protection as they were to prevent the donations from being looted.
Poverty and crime is extremely high in Conakry, Guinea, one of the world’s poorest areas. It is so corrupt and dangerous that no non-government organization will go to there.
That’s why Djiba, who grew up in Conakry before becoming an international soccer player, wanted to return.
Eventually, he was able to distribute shoes, clothing, books, school supplies and soccer balls to a few schools, and was pleased with the response.
“The students welcomed me with a soccer match,” said Camara. “They were jumping for joy when they saw what I had brought.”
He also managed to get eight soccer balls and jerseys to a school in Liberia as well.
But while they were buoyed by the balls, their hunger broke his heart.
There were some days he didn’t even eat because there was no food. A glass of water costs 1,500 Francs.
“What I saw in Africa changed me a lot,” said Camara, who is known for his cheery disposition. Some things he doesn’t want to talk about because he wants to stay positive for the people of this impoverished country. “I have to focus on the positive.”
In a country that’s predominantly Muslim, he was met with some resistance for his Christian faith. But during a soup kitchen at a local church, he found Muslims lining up, too, which was positive.
It showed how desperate people were for food.
Still, despite the need, he wasn’t able to distribute all the donations, so some have been locked up at a home owned by a government official.
He also had difficulties returning to Coquitlam — his plane home was cancelled because it was deemed too dangerous to land. Camara said he was told that an Al Qaeda shooting and attacks in neighbouring Mali had cancelled all flights in both countries.
“I didn’t know when I was going home,” said the certified FIFA coach, who previously trained the women’s Whitecaps team.
It was another week before the next plane landed in Guinea but that didn’t guarantee him a seat — money did, so he had to fork over more cash for a seat he had already paid for.
Still, Camara plans to return next summer, when he will distribute the rest of those donations and other goods he plans to collect, including bread makers and dry soups for distribution.
Although electricity is spotty, they have generators that can be used to power the equipment — at least when gas is available. Camara says the equipment would be put to good use.
• Djiba Camara is collecting clothing, shoes, purses, sports equipment; items that people can use to start their own enterprise, such as bread makers, sewing machines, ice-cream makers and photocopiers. He is also looking to collect electronics for the kids such as Game Boys and Nintendo products. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 778-285-9606.
— with files from