Whenever I have visited Trust Community School or other projects in the poor areas near MEF, I have seen groups of kids, usually boys, playing football (soccer) on dirt lots, most with bare feet. Ow! They are intent on their game, having fun. Sometimes the ball is a genuine soccer ball. Other times it is a makeshift or homemade ball. Always it is well-worn. Spectators cheer.
Yesterday I went with Jenny, a mission partner from the United Kingdom, to see a football match. The team we were to watch was young boys from a shanty town where she has been working with a local self-help group on nutrition and income-generating projects. The game was part of an informal regional tournament, with teams from all the area compounds competing on a brown grassy field. (It's the dry season.)
I remember well watching soccer tournaments at Fort Lowell Park and other Tucson fields when Michael, Miles, and Johnnary were on teams. Before we would leave home, we had to find the shin guards, uniform, soccer socks, soccer shoes, water bottles, snacks...it was a production getting ready to go!
So when Jenny and I arrived at the tournament field, many things were familiar. Groups of boys were clustered around coaches. Red, blue, green, black, white, and striped shirts distinguished one group from another, mixed in with kids wearing the usual variety of thrift-store leftovers from America that find their way to used clothing stalls in Africa.
Right away, however, I noticed the differences. All the teams had matching shirts, but not necessarily matching shorts. Shoes were another matter. A team would come off the field after their game, and immediately the boys with shoes would sit down, take them off, and pass their shoes and socks to some other boys about to play in the next game. A few pairs were real soccer shoes, the others were athletic shoes of some sort. I never saw a shin guard, let alone many soccer socks. And a number of boys played barefoot. Here and there a team had one or two bottles of water to be shared among the players, but I saw no sign of snacks.
How had they gotten to the tournament? A few teams had a coach with a pickup truck, one team had rented a minibus, but most of them walked many kilometers in the hot sun to arrive at the tournament site. And would walk back afterwards.
Jenny's long-range vision is to help her compound's self-help group to create a community park where the kids can have a sports field, playground equipment, and an activity center with a children's library. There are many kids not in school, and even those enrolled attend only half-days because overcrowding necessitates double shifts at most schools. A playground would give a location for healthy activities and could become a center for community gatherings and literacy education. And a place for soccer practice, of course.
The main reason we had gone to see this tournament was to take photos of the teams from Jenny's compound. A group in Scotland had sent money for six pair of soccer shoes. They were being used for the first time this week. And they brought good luck--the teams tied or won their games.
Ole, Ole, Ole!!!