YINCHUAN, Northwest China, (Rahnuma): In the middle of a piece of rough yellow land, a brand-new football field is particularly eye-catching. Abdumijit Emet is here training boys and girls from his school in passing and catching, dribbling, weaving through poles and shooting.
With sweat dripping down their faces, love for football is palpable among these young players.
“I didn’t know how to play football until Emet came, and now I am a big fan of it,” said Wang Ningbo, 13, a student from Jiangtai Middle School of Xiji County, northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Emet, from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is still a second year postgraduate student at Fudan University in Shanghai. In August of 2018, he came to Jiangtai Middle School as a volunteer teacher.
Xiji County, along with several other counties, is called Xihaigu, one of the world’s most uninhabitable places due to its dry climate, high mountains and harsh environment.
It is not easy to find a flat piece of land in the Xihaigu area. For this reason, basketball has become the mainstream sport for local people. The girls’ basketball team of Jiangtai Middle School once won the championship in a regional basketball match, but the school has never had a football team.
Emet has enjoyed playing football since childhood, and when he went to Beijing and Shanghai to study, football was still his biggest interest. Even after he came to this rural school, he still could not keep his feet away from football. Every time he played football, some students would join him out of curiosity.
“They like it and I found that some of the kids were very talented, which gave me the idea to form a football team,” he said.
With the support of the school, Jiangtai Middle School had its first-ever boys’ football team, which was also the first middle school football team in the towns of Xiji County. The team’s first training was on the school’s basketball court, and it was surrounded by crowds.
After the training, several girls started to “pester” him to set up a girls’ team as well. He was hesitant at first, but eventually relented.
“I said yes at last, but did not expect so many applicants. I had to hold a fitness test. Many of the eliminated girls cried,” Emet said.
Playing football on an existing basketball court was quite inconvenient, so Emet decided to move to a new field about 500 meters away from the school, which was built in February last year and is the only football field in the towns of Xiji.
Lei Qin, 15, cherished her chance to join the team.
“Playing football makes me happy, and I want to get familiar with the moves and improve my skills as soon as possible,” she said.
Happiness is what Emet wants to bring to the kids through football.
“They started late, and it is unrealistic to turn them into professional athletes. I just hope football could enrich the extracurricular life of those kids, bring joy to them as they grow up, and allow some kids to find confidence on the pitch,” said Emet.
It is not easy for a football team to start from scratch in the mountains. The team holds training twice a week on the pitch, and Emet corrects the kids’ moves one by one. He searches for information, produces PowerPoint slides and makes lesson plans to teach the rules of football, training methods and tactics.
Emet is a big fan of Shanghai SIPG Football club, so he brought their story to the club management and was met with success. In the upcoming summer vacation, Emet will take some players to Shanghai to watch a game of Shanghai SIPG and meet the professional players.
“I am happy to see that within just half a year, these kids have fallen in love with football,” Emet said.
This July, Emet will complete his voluntary teaching, and the football team will be taken over by Zhang Guowu, the school’s PE teacher.
Although a specialist in basketball, Zhang says he is ready to meet the challenge ahead.
“It is not easy to set up a football team in rural schools. Football makes these kids happy and has taught them the meaning of perseverance. I will do my best to make the team better and better,” said Zhang. .