Many of you know that Charity Ball’s first World Tour kicked off January 9 and lasted almost 4 months. The tour was an amazing success. It was led by Tom Bearor, a University of Maine student who helped us integrate the project into his Semester at Sea. Over the course of the tour, he and a group of students #teamcharityball hand-delivered 500 new Charity Balls to kids in China, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, Myanmar, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. Tom had limited access to internet, but still was able to email a picture of his travels from time-to-time. I was really cool knowing that Tom and a handful of students were out there traveling the globe sharing The Beautiful Game with kids in challenging situations. He recently sent us a final update on the project. You’ve got to read the whole thing. It’s really inspiring.
The day had come, January 9, 2013, the day I had been anticipating for the last six months, the first day of my Semester at Sea (SAS) voyage and of the Charity Ball World Tour. This was the start of my most life-changing experience, the day that would truly jump-start the rest of my life.
The day started with an early alarm in my hotel room in San Diego. I hopped in the shower unknowingly washing away the life I once had. I grabbed breakfast and found my group for the 8:15 a.m. bus to En Senada, Mexico. I was toting a backpack, a duffle carrying what I’d need for my four-month voyage, and another duffle stuffed with hundreds of soccer ball pumps.
We crossed our first international border as we entered Mexico to board the MV Explorer, the ship that would become my sanctuary, my community, and my home. My time in Mexico was strictly business – off the bus and onto the ship. As soon as I found my room and dropped my bags, I went to the Deans’ offices to introduce myself, “I’m Tom Bearor, the one doing the soccer ball project, and I’m wondering where the balls are.” The response I received was great. Dean Kevin and Dean Craig both jumped up, shook my hand, and responded, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Soccer Ball Tom.” I enjoyed this appellation and similar ones (e.g., Charity Ball Tom, Soccer ball kid, Charity Ball guy) on this ship carrying 700 college students. It identified me as part of a project that was big, special and definitely noteworthy.
Two weeks and many waves later, I had my first opportunity to deliver balls as part of the Charity Ball World Tour when two friends and I visited an orphanage in Japan for the first ball delivery. We enjoyed the children’s smiles and chatter as we pumped up the balls and then played with them.
But it was that night at dinner in Japan that I realized what this project’s most significant impact might be. I overhead a shipmate talking about an SAS service trip she had participated in. The trip visited a rural community and school, and the trip leader brought Charity Ball soccer balls at my request. The shipmate was excitedly describing her experience, and she said that playing soccer with the children was the best part of the service trip. It was as if a whole new world had opened for her – a world that brought different communities and ethnicities together; a world where language wasn’t a barrier; a world that can be made better by simple acts of kindness and generosity; a world where every kid deserves a ball. I sat back and smiled large. The World Tour would not only bring joy to the dozens of communities and thousands of people who would play with these balls after we left. It was impacting the students I was living with, most of whom want to make a positive change in the world.
An example of this was a story my friend Andrew told me as the ship pulled out of port in Myanmar, headed for India. He and another shipmate had been wandering the streets in Yangon and passed a few boys playing marbles on a dirt soccer field with broken down nets. It looked like soccer had not been played there in a long time. Andrew continued his walk and happened on a shop that sold soccer balls. He bought one and returned to the field for an impromptu pick-up game with the boys. As he turned to leave, they offered the ball to him. As well as he could, he explained that the ball was for them, and they were astounded and then overjoyed. As he told me the story, he explained that he would never have thought to do this had it not been for the Charity Ball World Tour. It was one of the highlights of his whole trip.
The last experience I want to share reminded me of Ethan’s first experience gifting a soccer ball. When I was in Ghana, I had an amazing opportunity to travel with Agua, a company that uses plants to create drinkable water. We went to Obo, a rural village along the shores of Lake Bosumtwi which is a meteorite-impact crater, stretching 5 miles wide, the largest natural lake in Ghana. Fifty thousand people live around Lake Bosumtwi in about 30 different villages. We chose Obo simply because it was the first village we came to off of the major road. The purpose of the expedition was to run tests on the lake water, speak with townspeople of the health problems related to the water, and become a part of the community for a few days.
On the first night after dinner at the Lake-Point Guesthouse, we decided to go “into town.” It was dark, and we used small flashlights to light our way down a dirt road. Sure enough, after a 10 minute walk, we came upon the only street light in Obo around which students were studying for their exams, adults were working, and kids were playing soccer. It was the only light in town. I befriended the children and started kicking around the small “ball” with them, only to realize after about 5 minutes that we were playing with a very beat up lemon!
The next day, I accompanied the Agua team to a meeting with the mayor and council of Obo. Agua was given permission to run tests on the water, and I was given permission to make a gift of balls to the two schools of Obo. We immediately headed to the first school where I made a presentation to the children and their teachers. When I explained that the balls I was carrying were to be left for them, a roar of cheers went up. In Obo, I experienced the true power of the Charity Ball World Tour. The night before, I had played soccer for hours with old lemons that had fallen from a nearby tree. I played the only soccer that the children of Obo have ever played. Now the children had quality soccer balls and pumps that should last for years – or at least a lot longer than citrus fruit!
The balls that Charity Ball let me bring around the world changed the lives of many. They brought SAS students closer to those we were visiting. They knocked down the barriers of language and allowed us to experience cultures as friends rather than foreigners. The balls brought us together as one team, playing not for a win, but for the love of the game. The love that was spread through Charity Ball will undoubtedly live on. While Charity Ball keeps playing it forward, the world will be a happier place.
Huge thanks to Tom and his team for the great work. Our world needs more people like you.