Monday, March 18, 2013
Norwich City star Kei Kamara has talked of his determination to give back to his African homeland of Sierra Leone and his dream to build a school and orphanage there.
The pace and power of the Premier League has posed Kamara a big challenge in stepping up from Major League Soccer - but he has had some help from some former Canaries.
He briefly played for San Jose Earthquakes at the same time as City legend Darren Huckerby, but moved to Houston Dynamo shortly after Huckerby signed.
Kamara recalled: “Playing in America I had the opportunity to play with and against some of the big names of England. Darren Huckerby, he’s still around, I see him every day at the training facility, which is great.
“I played with him at San Jose and when he came to San Jose I was like, wow, this guy is really fast!
“I thought I was the fastest guy on the team until he showed up, and his work rate was amazing. He didn’t stay in America for long because obviously people go out there at the end of their career.
“So definitely when I came out here, the first thing he did was send me a message and he’s told me what to do to make you guys (Canaries fans) love me!”
But Kamara is also friendly with another former City player, Ade Akinbyi.
The big striker, who started his career at Carrow Road in the mid-90s before going on to play in the Premier League with Leicester City, played with Kamara during the 2009 MLS season.
Kamara added: “I also played with Ade Akinbyi, when I played for Houston Dynamo, and to this day he is one of my greatest mentors.
“He calls me all the time to check on me and see how things are going.”
Just under 200 City supporters were given a special insight into Kamara’s incredible life when the Canaries striker attended two screenings of a film about his dramatic life at Cinema City in Norwich on Friday night.
After the screenings the 28-year-old talked about growing up in civil war-torn Sierra Leone and his escape to the USA, but also how he is still desperate to represent his country and how he is raising funds to build a school and orphanage in its capital, Freetown.
Kamara’s remarkable rise to fame as one of the star players in Major League Soccer in the USA, and subsequent five-month loan deal to Norwich in January, is being documented by US production company Copper Pot Pictures.
The film, Kei, is currently 25 minutes long and is helping to raise funds for a charity called Schools for Salone, with which Kamara is working to build a school and orphanage.
The film’s directors, Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker, and producer Clay Frost, flew in from the US to take part in the Q&As – and start filming for the next parts of the film.
Kei, who is on loan to the Canaries from Sporting Kansas City, said: “We’re trying to build a school which will also be an orphanage to really get some of these kids that have been through a lot, maybe don’t have parents any more, so we can put them in a safe place, keep them close, that’s the goal really. We’re just trying to give these kids a life that they don’t really see coming to them by building the school.
“We’ve shown this film already a few times in America, people have donated, we’ve bought the land and now it’s the next process of people going to the website, schoolsforsalone.org, and making donations or any other ways to really put this school out there for the kids.”
Cinema City, owned by Picturehouse Cinemas, pledged to donate 65pc of the takings on the night to Schools for Salone.
Mr LaMattina, one of the film’s directors, said around $55,000 of the $75,000 target was still needed for the school and orphanage, with $20,000 already used to purchase the land.
He said: “People have been really creative in the ways they have raised money back in the States. We’ve had local businesses pledge money for if Kei scores a certain amount of goals but really it can be a school bake sale, or just getting the word out there.
“The way we met Kei is we had worked with the same charity to build a school there and Kei’s school will actually be really unique because it’s a school and orphanage, and it will have a training area and a teaching space, plus it will provide a home for some of these kids that don’t have one, so it’s a pretty big undertaking.”
Kei watched both screenings of the film, watching some parts with hands over his face and tears in his eyes, and other parts with a smile as wide as the Cinema City auditorium.
He talked of fleeing Sierra Leone to Gambia when he was 14 years old, before flying to the US to start his new life in California with his mother, saying: “That’s when my opportunities started, that’s when everything opened up for me.
“I love what I do. Coming from where I come from, a little place called Kenema in Sierra Leone with 150,000 people, to being here today, I would have never thought this would happen so every single day whatever I do, I’m happy.”
But his love for Sierra Leone stays strong, with a large part of the film following Kamara as he played for his country, known as the Leone Stars, in a 2-1 win over Egypt in an African Cup of Nations qualifying match in 2011.
The match was made special for the Leone Stars as the country’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, gave a motivational speech to the players in their dressing room before the game.
Kei said: “The president’s been good, he’s done a lot for the country, he’s just won his second term in November, so the people love him, and they’re trying really hard to really help football in the country.
“So that was an incredible opportunity for us to meet him and for him to give us a speech like that to motivate us, saying what we do is going to translate into the nation, and we believed that, I believed that.”
Kei has now played 14 times for his country, scoring twice, and is set to fly out this week for a 2014 World Cup qualifying match in Tunisia on Saturday.
The 2012 Sierra Leone footballer of the year continued: “When I step on to the field I believe that I’m not just representing Kei Kamara, I’m representing my country, representing my family name, the team I’m playing for.
“So when I’m stepping on the field I’m representing the country and trying to do something good for the country.”
The Copper Pot Pictures crew travelled with the Canaries for their match at Sunderland yesterday and intend to continue to follow Kei’s story.
Mr LaMattina added: “2012 into 2013 has been a good year for Kei and for us, because we started following Kei and now we’re here in Norwich not to just show the film but we’re actually extending the film.
“We keep thinking Kei’s story is awesome and just not going to get any better, but it just keeps getting better. We hope to be back in Norwich with a longer version of the film in maybe a year’s time.”
- Those who weren’t able to attend the Cinema City screenings can buy a digital download of the film from Copper Pot Pictures at www.keimovie.com, with all the money raised going towards the Schools for Salone charity.
- Did you get a picture with Kei at Cinema City? Share your photos with us at www.iwitness24.co.uk