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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe 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 Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs