Big-hearted footballer John in running for University of Sunderland award after swapping Kenya for chance to work with brain injury survivors
A semi-professional footballer who moved to Sunderland from his home in Africa to teach the sport to brain injury survivors has been nominated for a new award.
John Mbandi swapped his home in Kenya for a place studying Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Sunderland.
The 32-year-old brought with him experience as a semi-pro football player, skills which he is today passing on to some of the most vulnerable people in the North East.
Now he has become the first person to be nominated for an award as part of the University of Sunderland’s new Rate Your Mate campaign., which aims to shine a light on students who go above and beyond their studies to help others.
During his spare time, John has been working with a group of between 15 and 20 spinal and brain injury patients from charity Headway, taking them to the gym, teaching them basketball and playing football with them.
Despite sacrificing much of his spare time, John, who has five brothers and two sisters back in Kenya, is modest about his efforts: “I just wanted to give something back to the people of the North East who have been so kind in welcoming me here and giving me an opportunity to live in Sunderland," he said.
When not helping and supporting Headway, John volunteers for the University’s Institute of Sport and also coaches one of the University’s football teams.
He said: “My family back home are very proud of me and I can’t believe I’ve been nominated for this award. I’m hoping to stay in the region once I graduate and find some kind of job in the fitness industry.”
Rate Your Mate is unique in that all nominations are made by friends of the nominees who are also based at the University.
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Rob Graham, a Sport and Development Officer at the University, decided to nominate John after seeing the lengths he went to in order to help others.
"John is amazing," he said.
"He has been volunteering from the very first day he started here and has clocked up more than 300 hours.
"He’s worked with our over-65’s walking-football team, our disability football team, as well as coaching our regular teams. While every Tuesday and Thursday he works with those from Headway.
"Back home in Africa he used to work with children who had AIDS, helping and educating them through football."
John is now currently working towards his FA Level 2 in coaching football.
John and Rob will feature in a poster campaign to encourage other students to Rate Your Mate – with all nominated students going forward to the finals in July, where the Student of the Year will be named at the 2019 summer graduation ceremonies.
Any student who would like to nominate their friend can email firstname.lastname@example.org.