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Thursday, September 20 Sports

GFA’s Murphy changes two lives with trip to Malawi

WESTPORT — When Aidan Murphy’s parents first brought up the idea of his spending part of his summer in Africa, he was admittedly hesitant.

After all, it’s a long way for a 16-year-old to travel without his friends and family, even if it meant taking part in the soccer experience of a lifetime.

“I was a little bit questionable at first, but over time I really opened up to it,” said Murphy, a sophomore at Greens Farms Academy. “I wanted to go a little more every day. By the time the trip came around, I couldn’t wait.”

What Murphy experienced was three weeks in the Republic of Malawi, where he became part of the Chigoli Football Academy.

“It was pretty amazing,” Murphy said.

On weekends, Murphy got to play for Chigoli Academy, but during the week he and other members of the trip, which was sponsored by a company called Woza Soccer, would visit villages surrounding Lilongwe, the country’s capital, to teach soccer to younger children.

“The first thing that struck me was the poverty,” Murphy said. “It was eye-opening; way different than anything here.”

The people, Murphy said, are what made the trip so incredible.

“The people there, they don’t have great things, the best food or water, but they’re still the nicest people I’ve ever met on earth,” Murphy said. “They were always welcoming. It was just pure niceness. There was always a smile on their faces.”

While few spoke English, Murphy said they shared one common language: That of the sport of soccer.

“Soccer was the common language,” he said. “Even though most kids couldn’t speak English, they knew simple words like ‘pass’ or ‘through ball.’ It was easy to communicate with soccer. It was great.”

In early 2018, a family friend had mentioned Woza Soccer to the Murphys, planting the seed for the journey.

According to their website, Woza “offers authentic international summer service trips for high school and college soccer players, using the game to create connections across cultures.”

Murphy could have gone to Peru or Costa Rica, but the family opted for Malawi.

“The organizers at Woza Soccer said the level of soccer would be higher in Malawi than the other trips,” said Tom Murphy, Aidan’s father.

“Aidan wanted the higher level of soccer. We were also attracted to the Chigoli Academy story. Besides the high-quality soccer training, Chigoli provides its players with educational scholarships enabling them to attend private schools and creating pathways and opportunities for them that aren’t available in Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.”

It also taught Aidan Murphy a powerful, life-affirming message.

“It just made me think about how grateful I am about the things I have, how blessed I am with the opportunities I have,” he said.

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Murphy not only brought back life-changing memories of his trip, but a new friend, as well. Zobran Elias, a member of the Chigoli Academy, received a full academic scholarship to attend the K-9 Indian Mountain School in Lakeville. What he didn’t have was a U.S. family to host him. At least not until fate brought Aidan Murphy to Malawi.

“Last fall, we had played against Millbrook, which had Ousseni Bouda, who was the Gatorade National Player of the Year, and he was amazing,” Murphy recalled. “I remember after the game, I told Dad it would be great if we hosted a kid. That kind of fell through, but after we found out about Chigoli, it was perfect timing. Zobran was getting ready to come here and everything just fell into place.”

Elias is now an official member of the Murphy household, which includes Ella, a GFA senior and girls soccer/lacrosse standout; freshman Patrick, a ninth-grader; and Gavin, a fifth-grader.

He got to spend some time on the GFA campus during the soccer preseason, and had a chance to chat with Dragon Nation.

“The Murphys have been great. I was lucky to have a good family like them find me,” said Elias, who will be a ninth-grader at IMS. “Obviously, there are a lot of opportunities I have here that I wouldn’t have had in Malawi. I can get a better education and progress in my sports. This is a perfect place for me to build a good future for myself. A lot of it is on me to work hard and be determined. If I do that in school and sports and my social life, I have a lot of opportunities to go further.”

Murphy might have felt a little trepidation about going off to a faraway land, but his embracing the opportunity has now changed two lives.

And that’s a pretty special summer to remember.

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