An Olympic torch used in the Jersey leg of the London 2012 Torch Relay in July has recently returned from inspiring less fortunate children more than 5,500 miles away in Guatemala. Torchbearer Andy Le Seelleur is Chairman of local charity Le Tournoi, which has sponsored five children for seven years through a partnership with UK charity Education for the Children Foundation.
The torch was taken to La Antigua, the former Guatemalan capital, by volunteer Louise Knight who had planned her trip for six months. “It wasn’t a straightforward journey” said Louise, “Although British Airways had approved the torch as hand luggage as far as Miami, I was stopped by Customs at Miami Airport whilst boarding the onward flight to Guatemala City who were reluctant to let it through, until it sunk in what the item was and their cameras came out! After calling their senior officials, they finally understood what it was and once they’d all posed for photos, I was allowed to board the flight” she added.
The British Embassy supported the initiative and the British Ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras Sarah Dickson led the plans to maximise the opportunity. “When Andy first mailed us, we were delighted to support such a novel idea. Guatemala had sent a team to the Olympics and when they won their first ever medal, a silver in the men’s 20km walk, interest in the Games was at a high. We saw an opportunity to hold our very own Torch Relay and the route covered four kilometres through the streets of Guatemala City. Torchbearers included local community workers, two members of the Guatemalan Olympic squad, children from the EFTC school and disabled locals. We ended by handing the torch to the Brazilian Ambassador, recognising that the next Games will be nearby in Rio de Janeiro, which was hugely symbolic. This was a great opportunity to talk about issues that do not have much profile in Guatemala, including participation in sport. Media coverage was extensive and the people of Guatemala City are extremely grateful to Le Tournoi for this opportunity”.
Speaking about the idea, Andy Le Seelleur said “Le Tournoi has a close relationship with the EFTC school in La Antigua and our annual Volcano Challenge is held to raise funds specifically to support the amazing work done there. We are always looking for volunteers either to scale the active volcanoes or just to spend time in the school, teaching or just being there for the five hundred or so kids who need as much love and laughter as they can get. Louise had an amazing time, and she found it hugely emotional but life changing at the same time and I’m delighted that she is keen to return as soon as she can – everyone who goes leaves a large part of their heart in the school and very often vow to return”.
The torch was used in the school for a special Olympic opening ceremony and sports day. Louise added “The new school building only opened eighteen months ago and the children now have the use of a wonderful outdoor area which not only act as a sports field but also as a place of sanctity from their otherwise traumatic lives. The torch was used to lead a procession of the whole school, which culminated in a great day of activities where groups were allocated to different Olympic nations.
Aside from the Olympic activities, Louise got to know the children, in particular those supported by Le Tournoi. “My most enjoyable experience was when we took the children sponsored by Le Tournoi to the market and bought them new shoes, clothes, essential items and food for their families. They were all so excited and overwhelmed by the whole situation, but it was such a great feeling to provide them and their families with what we would consider basic items, which meant so much more to them. There is an overwhelming feeling in the school that you are surrounded by people who truly believe that this generation will do better than their parents and grandparents and will make something of themselves through education. I fell in love with the children from day one and will never forget them or the teachers. In such extreme poverty, there is so much hope and positivity and the children cherish every moment they get to spend in school”.
Le Tournoi is always looking for volunteers to travel to the school and become part of its success. Head of Fundraising for Le Tournoi and a two-time visitor Michael Fitzgerald said “Personally, It was one of the most incredible ventures I’ve experienced and we are keen to let others share this feeling. Whether it’s to climb volcanoes and raise cash, or simply to teach sport, English or whatever, I can’t think of a more emotional and rewarding trip”. Louise supports this view. “I would strongly recommend getting involved with the EFTC if anyone is considering doing some volunteer work in the near future. There is so much potential for those with teaching experience and a good level of Spanish to teach English at the school. Even if you don’t have these specific attributes, the children always enjoy seeing a new face and welcome you with open arms”.