News / USA

Kids Get Kick Out of 'Project Play Africa'

Children in Benin get a foot on their new soccer balls from Project Play Africa in 2010. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
Children in Benin get a foot on their new soccer balls from Project Play Africa in 2010. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
TEXT SIZE - +
Jan Sluizer
— For a quarter century, Michael Mitchell and Dave Stahl tried to harness the powerful worldwide appeal of soccer to bring hope and happiness to people living in the some of the poorest, least developed places on Earth.

Now, after years of hard work, their dream is coming true.

Mitchell and Stahl were soccer teammates at Chico State University in Northern California. When Mitchell joined the U.S. Peace Corps after graduation and was assigned to work in Niger in West Africa, he took soccer balls with him.

“Soccer is the international language of the world," Stahl says. "People play soccer everywhere and they get a lot of joy out of it. It brings communities together.”
Children play in the street in Niger after receiving soccer balls from Project Play Africa. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)Children play in the street in Niger after receiving soccer balls from Project Play Africa. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
x
Children play in the street in Niger after receiving soccer balls from Project Play Africa. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
Children play in the street in Niger after receiving soccer balls from Project Play Africa. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)

After his two-year assignment, Mitchell returned to Chico State to get his master’s degree in physical education. His thesis, which Stahl helped him structure, was that soccer could improve the lives of African children. The paper was called, “Project Play Africa.”

It took more than 15 years for the two friends to turn that thesis into reality. But finally, with $30,000 in seed donations, they ordered 2,000 soccer balls from China. But that turned out to be the easy part. 

“It was very difficult to get the balls to Niger because there’s not a lot of commerce going into Niger and it’s expensive to ship the balls," Stahl says. "You have import duties and where are the balls going to be when they get there, et cetera.”

Once they worked out the details, Stahl and Mitchell went to Niger, rented a car and headed into the countryside, to hand out the balls and air pumps in settlements, roadside villages and schools.

Stahl recalls one particular stop when they drove by a dozen kids trying to play soccer using a sock filled with sand. They stopped and got the soccer balls out.

“We started kicking the ball around and we started kicking it with the kids," Stahl says. "And then we got our translator to communicate that, ‘Hey, we’re going to leave you guys this soccer ball.’ And when the kid had the ball in his hand, all the kids just started jumping up and down and screaming.”

In 2010, with help from the Peace Corps, Project Play Africa volunteers went to Benin, but on that trip, they realized their efforts were not measurable, traceable or sustainable.
Dave Stahl helps children pump their soccer balls in Niger. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)Dave Stahl helps children pump their soccer balls in Niger. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
x
Dave Stahl helps children pump their soccer balls in Niger. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)
Dave Stahl helps children pump their soccer balls in Niger. (Courtesy Project Play Africa)

So, in 2011, they returned to Niger, deciding to focus only on Libore, a small, rural community on the outskirts of the capital, Niamy. This time, Project Play Africa went armed with a plan for a soccer league. Their goal was to involve local clubs and schools in the effort, creating a lasting organizational infrastructure.

When Project Play Africa volunteers returned to Libore this year, they were astonished to see how much had been accomplished with the equipment and information they'd left behind.

“They embraced the idea and staffed all the positions and created the league and played the games and were hungry to expand it. It engaged boys and girls, which is very unusual for a Muslim country to know that the parents were letting their girls participate in an activity because usually the girls are doing housework, fetching water and wood and so on," Stahl says. "We found we had the support of both the tribal and the political leaders of Libore. We saw that the program created pride in the village and the school.”

For Stahl, a highlight of the trip was watching the boys’ and girls’ championship soccer games.

“We drive up and they had literally a thousand to two thousand people there, both adults and children to watch these kids play soccer. They were probably aged between six and 12-years-old," he says. "So the field is totally lined with spectators and they had a lean-to tent at the center of the field where the mayor and the chief and the dignitaries were sitting. And it was incredible to watch.”

According to Stahl, Project Play Africa’s greatest challenge is to find a soccer ball that is affordable, easy to transport and durable enough to survive more than a few weeks on Niger’s rocky playing fields.

Once they come up with one, Stahl says, Project Play Africa intends to bring soccer balls to all of West Africa.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid