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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid