We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.” Cliché? Yes. Trite? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less true. At least not for Gareth Carter, a British traveler who proved that embracing the journey could lead a man…a whole team of men…to a destination they had never dreamed.
Gareth was instrumental in organizing a bunch of football mad teenagers from Laos to play at The Gothia Youth World Cup 2010 in Sweden, thereby making them part of the first-ever Laos team to play outside Asia.
It, however, took more than a plane ride from Laos to Sweden to make this happen. Gareth’s story is not just of hope but a story of a friendship that lasts beyond a lifetime.
After being let go from his lucrative music career at Sony Ericsson, Gareth Carter found himself in the former war zone of Laos. During his visit in 2009, Gareth learned that this small and mysterious country in Southeast Asia was the most heavily bombed nation in the world during the Vietnam War. He also discovered that at the current rate of clean-up it is estimated to take 3,000 years to completely clear the country of all explosive remnants left behind from US bombers.
While those numbers are staggering, Gareth was even more aghast when he came face to face with the devastation. In the Xieng Khouang province, Gareth discovered people who built their lives in and around the bomb contaminated grounds. The unexploded ordinances are like ghosts of the secret war that still haunt the people who live and farm in this region. They live in constant fear never knowing if the next dirt-filled shovel will detonate a 30-year old bomb. Seeing the number of amputees in the province, it certainly would not be the first accident of its kind…nor the last. But it was also in this same remote region where Gareth encountered Manophet, a man whose character would inspire Gareth to make history.
Manophet was well known in the area of Phonesavanh. He served as a UXO tour guide and also had a passion for teaching English and football to the local children. Manophet had a gentle and generous nature, yet he had an unyielding determination when it came to his work with the children.
From their first meeting, Gareth quickly realized that there was something different about Manophet. He was a kindhearted man who always thought of the children’s needs first. Not a father himself, Manophet dedicated his life to helping those who had lost their mothers and fathers during the war and took a vested interest in their academic future. He made children dream of better things to come in the bleak land of bombs and devastation.
Manophet, better known to the locals as the “Lone Buffalo” for his unique and unwavering vision, believed that his boys could stand alongside the rest of the world and compete as equals in a game of football. When his new found friend, Gareth, got a glimpse of the boys playing football, he was in awe not only of their skill, but of the heart and soul with which they played.
Manophet also dedicated his time to teaching the boys English, which he believed was a valuable skill for them to possess. What began as a shared passion for the game of football soon became so much more to Gareth. His journey started to take a new and far more meaningful direction as he began to join Manophet in his vision to showcase the potential that was apparent in this team of young, yet determined boys.
What neither of these two men knew at the time is that Manophet’s vision would never be accomplished in his unexpectedly short lifetime. That another would have to carry on this great vision in his absence. Gareth, unknowingly, was the perfect man for the job. Thanks to his personal connections and his undying determination, Gareth would not only change the lives of these young boys, but also the lives of the Phonsevanh people as a whole. Together they would face joy, heartbreak, defeat, and victory, but most importantly, they would make history.
On Safer Ground, a documentary that follows the amazing journey not only of Gareth and Manophet, but that of the determined young boys of the football team, will be ready by the end of the year. To watch the trailer, click here.
Gareth started out like anyone else, someone with a desire to learn and explore. His story is a testament to the idea that a journey can start at any time and take us anywhere, that we should not be afraid to act in times of uncertainties.
I had an amazing opportunity to interview Gareth about the life-changing excursion he undertook in Laos. To listen to excerpts of the interview, click here.