“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community...Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” —Cesar Chavez
Sometimes a brief exchange of dialogue with an individual may be an educational one. A few weeks ago, I had finished covering Major League Soccer's SuperDraft in Baltimore, Maryland. As soon as the draft was officially over, I made my way down to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention, because I had agreed to be interviewed for a radio show based in Philadelphia.
As I waited to be interviewed, Viva Ann Guerrero approached me and introduced herself. She informed me that she was the President and CEO of her nonprofit, Ball Without Borders. As she was explaining to me the purpose of her organization, I had to cut our conversation short, because I was informed that I was next to be interviewed.
Following my radio interview, I had to catch my bus back to New York City. Nevertheless, I asked Viva for any information that she has about Balls Without Borders and assured her that I will contact her within the next 24 hours. At that point, I had already decided to write an article about her organization and the positive impact they're making for children currently living in refugee camps and war-torn regions.
Meeting an individual like Viva is one of the things I find amazing about soccer. While soccer is a game many of us enjoy watching and playing, it's also a sport in which social, political, economic, humanitarian and military issues can be universally addressed. In the case of the victims, it can be utilized as a lightning rod to help begin the healing of their lives.
As stated in their website, Balls Without Borders is, "An international humanitarian organization, Balls Without Borders, Inc. (BWB) delivers soccer balls to serve as a distraction for children affected by armed conflict and natural or man-made disasters, and in doing so bears witness publicly to the plight of the people we serve. A 501 (c)(3) Non-Profit Organization, it is a goal of BWB to provide play therapy and connect cultures through sports." (www.ballswithoutborders.com)
Since being formed in 2007, Balls Without Borders has delivered over 4,600 soccer balls to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. In addition, they've also distributed soccer balls to Haitian refugees living in the Dominican Republic. Within the next few months, soccer balls will be distributed to the children of Guatemala.
By working with the US military, regional AYSO and Club team organizations, Balls Without Borders has created a public awareness of the plight of people at risk. Their outreach work has consisted of sending field volunteers and staff to speak at international and national tournaments and conferences.
In addition to speaking at various tournaments and conferences, Balls Without Borders have also sponsored amateur events and competitions while addressing the collateral damage that most often gets ignored...People and the struggles they have to face and deal with in their war-torn region or refugee camp.
As stated in the information Viva handed to me, each soccer ball distributed hopefully fulfills three goals:
"To provide a form of Play Therapy to children growing up in refugee camps, war-torn regions, and areas affected by natural disaster. Play Therapy is the first step in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children.
"Involving US teams and individuals in the donation process creates an avenue for cultural awareness through the common language of soccer, 'The World's Game.'
"Just as the World Cup was created in 1930 to bring nations together under a diplomatic umbrella after World War I, BWB hopes to create an avenue for Peace by transcending differences in culture, socio-economic standing, or any other barriers that are forgotten when people find a common ground in physical activity."
Not only is this program beneficial to the children of those regions, it's also beneficial to our children living in the United States. While the rest of the planet learns about the United States, many Americans tend to ignore the other regions worldwide and focus more on the TMZ/Facebook/Twitter cyberworld which many of us have access to.
A program such as Balls Without Borders will not only educate our children about the other regions of the world, they're also given the opportunity to make a difference. When a child donates their ball, his/her name is written on it and then sent to a child who's living in a refugee camp or war-torn region.
While many of us will probably never visit any of those countries, most of us are capable of donating a used soccer ball so we can make a difference in a child's life. For more information on how you can help, please go to their website or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for Latino Sports. You may follow him on Facebook at Covering Soccer and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer and @LatinoSports143. Please email your questions and comments to Cesar at email@example.com.