The story begins with a simple question Russ Altenburg, Global Playground's vice chairman, asked to a few children at Global Playground's school in Uganda: "Who's the best player for France?" The children had disputed opinions. Some said Henry; others said Zidane. What was not in dispute, however, was their obvious passion for the sport. But when asked about their own play, they shrugged: "Do you guys all play football?" Russ asked. "Mmmm . . . Yes. But we have not football." "No ball?" Russ said. "Yes." One brave young man then asked, "Can you . . . can you buy for us?"
When Kari saw a video of that conversation in Global Playground's documentary, she was moved to tears. Kari told her husband, Doc, of the children's plea, who in turn relayed it to his friend, Chad Ashton, an assistant coach for D.C. United. Coach Ashton came through by donating nine soccer balls previously used by the pro-footballers. This coming May, many of those balls will make the trip from the 56,000-seat RFK Stadium to the red-dirt clearing at Global Playground's school in Uganda where soccer will finally kick off.
Obtaining the donation from D.C. United was not the end of Kari and Doc's efforts. Last October, their son Liam became a one-year-old. In lieu of gifts for Liam at his birthday party, Kari and Doc asked people to bring used or new soccer balls to benefit the children at Global Playground's schools around the world. "Everyone was delighted to help," Kari said. "My son is very fortunate. He has all the toys he needs. I just thought this would bring a lot more smiles to a lot more kids." Kari was indeed right. This past January, Global Playground delivered some of the twenty-nine soccer balls collectively donated by D.C. United and Liam's friends to smiling children at Global Playground's schools in Cambodia and Thailand. Games with the balls ensued for hours, turning dormant fields into clouds of dust.
Global Playground's vision is to create a worldwide network of schools so that children from all parts of the world can interact and learn from one other, much like they would on a playground or soccer field. Through this interaction, Global Playground hopes that children will learn to appreciate cultural differences, and discover commonalities among themselves and others. Perhaps football will be the first commonality they will find. Football, after all, is the number one sport in Uganda, Cambodia, and Thailand.
-Jennifer Rinker with Doug Smith
To see the video of Russ Altenburg's soccer discussion with the children at Global Playground's school in Uganda, click here.