Westland High School boys soccer coach Jamie Dato plans to continue to share his summer adventure with his players throughout the season.
Dato, whose team opened practice Aug. 1, took part in a mission to Malawi in southeastern Africa from July 2-16. He was one of approximately 25 members of the Northwest Bible Church in Hilliard to make the trip, which included visiting the Passion Center for Children orphanage and associated church located in the city of Zomba.
It was Dato’s fifth trip to Africa as part of his church’s continued commitment to assist the Third World country. He made his first trip in 2009 and plans to return in the future.
Northwest Bible Church made an exploratory mission trip in 2008.
“When I got back, I told (the players) about it,” said Dato, who promoted the sport as part of the mission. “Throughout the year, I’ll mention it. They’ll complain about the practice field and I’ll tell them they have nothing to complain about. I’ll tell them what it’s like over there where they’re playing soccer. I don’t want them to feel guilty, but they have it pretty good compared to a lot of the world.”
Dublin Jerome boys soccer coach Nate Maust, also a member of Northwest Bible Church, assisted in collecting soccer equipment, uniforms and cleats for the mission.
Maust took part in the mission in 2014 and 2015 and plans on returning to Malawi someday with his family. He made the trip in 2014 with his wife, Angie.
“No matter what Jamie and I do over there, whether it’s coaching clinics or working with the kids in soccer – and they just love the sport over there – no matter how much you give, you get just as much back in return,” Maust said. “They teach you things you don’t think about. They teach you how to appreciate everything you have. They teach you humility.”
Dato and Maust credited area schools for donating equipment and uniforms to the mission.
“We’ve been able to take a lot of stuff over there and a lot of area coaches have really stepped up and helped out,” Maust said. “It seems like everybody always has an extra set of uniforms somewhere in a storage closet. We’re a nation that when stuff gets old and outdated some stuff is still in really good shape. You take it over there and to them it’s like they just won the lottery.”
The soccer segment of the trip culminated with a four-team tournament, with prizes awarded to the teams. Dato said one of the teams that reached the tournament final wore Jerome uniforms that had been donated during a previous visit. Players range from ages 17-21.
“It’s a lot of fun hanging out with them and interacting,” said Dato, who noted that the trip cost him approximately $3,000 in travel expenses, with part of the money having been raised through donations. “The people light up because they’re getting things. ... You get a chance to pray with them, do Bible studies with them and share hope with them. It’s a good feeling and, at the same time, it’s sad because you see what little they have.”
Dato said that the playing surfaces in Malawi are comprised mostly of hard dirt and rocks. Both he and Maust hope to return someday with donated synthetic turf.
“Putting a turf field over there would be amazing for them to be able to have a surface like that,” Maust said. “It doesn’t exist. We’re so lucky here with the grass fields and even the parks we have to play in. They don’t have anything like that.”
Promoting soccer was only part of the trip, as missioners also delivered food, assisted in a bible school, taught students, stressed good health and assisted in construction work.