Coming from humble beginnings, Master’s University men’s soccer player Benji Tembo fell in love with the game of soccer by playing on the streets of his native country of Malawi.
In Dedza, a small district in Malawi where he and his three older brothers grew up, along with their mother who was an English teacher, Tembo quickly learned and became obsessed with the game of soccer through one of his older brothers.
Between four and five years old, Tembo began playing the sport on the streets with some neighborhood kids for fun. When his brother saw the passion and enthusiasm that Tembo had for the game, he started to teach him different skill sets at an early age.
“It was different than in the United States because I just played with the kids in my neighborhood and that was that,” Tembo said.
Without a real coach until high school, Tembo and the local kids from Dedza formed a team and would play other teams consisting of kids from other districts or neighborhoods.
“We just played,” Tembo said. “When you play each and every day, you actually get good and then we would showcase that in the games between the neighborhoods. That’s when my brother really started to teach me how to dribble and juggle the ball.”
With his brother’s training along with everyday sessions with the neighborhood kids, Tembo went on to be selected as one of two candidates to receive a scholarship to play for Kamuzu Academy on a government scholarship. Finally, Tembo would have his first proper head coach: Gary Wambeek.
“(Wambeek) really developed me and changed me from a typical soccer player to the player that I am now,” Tembo said. “And we started recording videos and we started emailing coaches. A lot of them were interested, but I just couldn’t afford the dues with the flights and all the fees so I decided to stay on one more year.”
With Wambeek’s help, Tembo was introduced to Noel Musicha, a native Malawian who played collegiate soccer in the United States for San Diego Christian University in the early 2000s.
The chance encounter changed Tembo’s life forever.
Founding the “Chisomo Idea”, a Christian-based organization that gives back to the African community by creating a modern community and helping kids in Africa’s most at-risk communities, Musicha helped Tembo to get the finances and everything else that comes with traveling 10,000 miles away to the U.S. in order through the “Chisomo Idea” and was able to come to the states and ultimately end up playing at the Master’s University.
“I couldn’t wait to get started because I had prayed for this to happen and it finally did,” Tembo said. “I got here and I was so happy and I just wanted to get going to show everyone what I could do on the pitch and be coachable and make new friends.”
In 2015, Tembo played in 18 games, scoring two goals and dishing out five assists during his freshman year. Two years later, in his junior season, Tembo went on to win the Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year leading the Mustangs in goals (17) and scoring (42 points).
“I remember in 2015 I have two goals and five assists, but the only difference was that it was a new style and new environment. I had a lot of pressure being the guy that was brought on from Malawi to perform so I felt like it hindered me to play the way I play which is composed, calm and just enjoy the game.”
Starting the 2018 season off on a five-game win streak, dropping their last game to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 1-0, the Mustangs and Tembo have not forgotten how they got to where they are at through hard work and determination.
“We have a lot of options this year,” Tembo said. “We have eight different goal-scorers so the goals are spread out and a lot of people are stepping up and we have a really, really good chance to make it to nationals.”
Wanting to help as much as he can through the game of soccer, Tembo hopes to give back to the community just like Musicha and the “Chisomo Idea” did for him when he was in need, by getting involved in ministry work or a creating a mentorship to help kids in need with the proper resources and guidance to help them have a better life.
“At first when I was in Malawi I would play soccer for myself, for me to get better and get more opportunities and to just play because it’s a game,” Tembo said. “And then I came to (The Master’s University) and started getting deeper in my faith I realized that this was an opportunity that God gave me to worship him when I play. So whenever I play I try to manifest his glory in my play.”