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)
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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid