Cricket charity helps kids wield willow worldwide

Line and length: Donations from Luke Serong’s cricket charity have given the game new life in impoverished countries. Picture: Yanni

Line and length: Donations from Luke Serong’s cricket charity have given the game new life in impoverished countries. Picture: Yanni

A BLAIRGOWRIE cricket player has given a lot back to the game he loves. But now Luke Serong is preparing to bid farewell to his charity Cricket4Kids, which has donated tonnes of second-hand cricket equipment to needy children all over the world.

After living in London as a flight manager with Qantas, Mr Serong, 38, flew home via Sri Lanka almost a decade ago with wife Bree. Visiting a school which had been devastated by a tsunami, they noticed hordes of children playing cricket in hand-me-down gear of poor quality.

“We cooked up the idea for the charity there,” he said, and set about getting things moving.

A call to his playing mates at Old Wimbledonians resulted in the arrival of 50-60kg of second-hand gear – much to the delight of the locals.

Now, almost a decade on, the charity has donated 9.5 tonnes of old gear to children in 18 countries, including the Cook Islands, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Fiji, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Gear also goes to Indigenous children in regional and Outback areas.

“We received no funding for the first six and a half years, but then the International Cricket Council got behind us and offered $5000 for five years and that got us going,” he said.

Unfortunately, it was harder to win support from Cricket Australia, but hopefully, more support is in the offing.

Recipients of the gear in far-flung countries are encouraged to “take ownership” of the donations. Cricket4Kids arranges to collect it but the actual shipping out is handled by agents of the countries involved.

“We spend our time collecting the gear and they arrange to ship it,” Mr Serong said.

A teacher and unabashed cricket lover, Mr Serong grew up in Dromana and played cricket for Rosebud, and then Brunswick.

A highlight of his “career” was attending the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2012 and donating 900kg of cricket gear to teams from Nepal and Bangladesh. There he met an Indian man who has since begun a version of the charity in the Sub-Continent, ensuring the concept lives on.

Showing the valuable impact the donated gear can have on a community is a good way of attracting support, he said. “In one case, a woman donated the cricket gear of a brother who had died at work and, in another, the family of a boy who died in the Black Saturday bushfires donated his gear.

“We showed photos to those families of the joy it brought to the children in Vanuatu who got to use their equipment and that brought home to them the true value of their donations.”

A documentary Mr Serong made in The Solomons showed how the donated gear, when used by former civil-war enemies, came to represent common ground. Two of the old antagonists got together for a game of cricket, which gradually became part of the healing process.

Other donated gear is being used in Imparja Cup matches between Indigenous communities around Alice Springs.

Mr Serong is hoping a national cricket drive, with support from Cricket Australia, will generate added interest in the charity. He is already receiving publicity and ground space in the outfield at the MCG Boxing Day tests and on Channel 9’s Cricket Show.

A highlight was receiving quality gear of all sorts from former Test player David Hussey. Its auction raised “a couple of thousand” dollars.

With stumps on the charity to be drawn in autumn next year, Mr Serong can look back of a match well played.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 22 November 2016


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