“To be honest, I never ever had friends from other ethnic groups in my school, but I am so happy to have Indian and Chinese friends here in this program,” said Sakonlawat Khetboon, a student who, with sixty-three other secondary students from the Kuala Lumpur inner city district of Sentul, attended a 3-day, 2-night Midnight Football Leadership Camp, on October 14-16, 2011.
The Leadership Camp at Bukit Broga, a recreational area about 50 kilometers from the Malaysian capital, was part of an eight-month Midnight Football (MF) program that sponsors football clinics twice a week, as well as character, leadership, health and motivation camps on weekends. The program is jointly sponsored by the GPF Malaysia, Malaysia’s Department of National Unity and Integration, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Dream Asia Initiative.
Midnight Football has been recognized as the first program in Asia to use football, with other peer-support mechanisms, to guide at-risk youth. The first Midnight Football program was launched in September 2010 in the Cheras district of Kuala Lumpur and concluded in July. The second program began in July and has proven successful in bringing about positive change among participants, some of whom had disciplinary problems in school or were in juvenile reform school.
During the first day of the camp, participants were grouped into eight teams—Ambition, Brilliance, Courage, Faith, Glory, Honesty, Inspiration and Passion. Anticipating the challenges they would meet in changing old habits and internalizing these values, camp members climbed a mountain above Bukit Broga for a panoramic view of the scenic region.
The following day teams performed community service in the town, and also talked with community members to understand their concerns. The service project gained support from the Broga police, who spoke with the youth about the real experience of living in jail as a harsh consequence of engaging in criminal acts.
"Midnight Football is a good program for students, and football can become an effective instrument to build the character and discipline. The lessons from the game and the whole project can be applied in all aspects of life.”
On the last night of the camp, participants were touched and even shed tears as each related stories from their sometimes difficult lives.
Mohd Shairi Pauzi, a sports teacher at the Bandar Baru Sentul Secondary School, said, “MF is a good program for students, and football can become an effective instrument to build the character and discipline. The lessons from the game and the whole project can be applied in all aspects of life,” he said.
Program participants seemed to agree. “The game and the program have the potential to teach us about teamwork, having stamina and a healthy life and good character,” said one participant, Loshanna. Another student, Abdul , said “I’d like to improve my football skills, but also want to be a better person by participating in the program.”
“Now I have a new dream,” said participant Nur Fadzilah. “I want to become a policewoman to help my country. . . . I think police work is a very noble job.”
At the closing session, each student was given a set of Midnight Football Jerseys by the AFC's Director, Mr. Ra. “There are many chances . . . which can transform your lives,” Ra told the students. “Some people have had a chance already, but some have not, but it [may] come to you in the near future. I hope you can consider this Midnight Football program your chance, your turning point, which encourages you to seize opportunities to have a better life.”