Giving the Joy of Football: Peace Ball

ImageAs the 2014 World Cup draws closer, Peace Boat continues efforts to support Rio de Janeiro’s local philanthropic organization São Martinho, and to fundraise for our Peace Ball project, an initiative which, through friendly soccer matches between Peace Boat participants and members of local communities, utilizes the positive power of the world’s most popular sport to foster friendship across cultural and language barriers.

São Martinho has given over 550 street children access to education, culture, sports and leisure, and focuses on empowering children and youth in vulnerable situations through cultural projects, sustainable social inclusion, and workforce and sports training, São Martinho recruits psychologists and social workers to conduct outreach to Brazilian street children, inviting them into their cultural center to engage in sports, educational trainings, and other cultural opportunities geared towards transitioning these children out of homelessness.

This work is tremendously important, as Brazil hosts the second largest amount of children living on the street, after India. According to a 2005 study done by Novartis Foundation, between 12-17 million street children inhabit the streets of Brazil.[1] A 2007 Pbs.org article places the number closer to 7 million, and according to a 2012 theguardian.org article, Unicef places the estimate at around three million. Regardless of the actual number, these vast estimates indicate the enormity of the problem.

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In January, as part of the Peace Ball project, Peace Boat participants engaged and played football with children from São Martinho while docked in Rio de Janeiro. After sharing the field with São Martinho’s staff and youth, Peace Boat donated footballs and stationary to the organization. Peace Boat is currently fundraising to support the rebuilding of São Martinho’s soccer field, an important attraction for the local youth. You can find an article written about the experience here.

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Friendly matches with youth also took place when Peace Boat docked in Toamanisa, Madagasgar. Toamanisa SOS Villages d’Enfants, an NGO that serves close to 30,000 children across Madagascar, giving vulnerable and at-risk children education and a family-esque environment, hosted the event at their football centre. Over 250 children are involved in their football program designed to build self esteem, discipline and interpersonal skills.   You can read about the game and learn more about the experience here.

The Peace Ball project started when Peace Boat participants saw children kicking crumpled plastic bottles instead of footballs, and since 2000, has donated more than 10,000 sporting items to 40 countries around the world. Before departing on a global voyage, Peace Ball participants gather soccer balls and related supplies for donation in some of the communities Peace Boat visits. In 2010, Philippe Troussier, former general manager of FC Ryuku, was named Peace Ball Ambassador, and has helped raise awareness and equipment for the project.

ImageThe efforts continue, but Peace Ball needs your help! To donate gear or money please visit our donations page and show your support. If you have any suggestions or information about organizations that might want to contribute or get involved, please send us an email at info@peaceboat-us.org. We would love to hear from you.

With the World Cup approaching, the Peace Ball project seeks to promote cross-cultural exchange, dialogue, appreciation and laughter through sports. This coming June 12th, kids all over the globe will ogle as their nation’s athletes take the field to compete in the most internationally celebrated sporting event, and Peace Ball is excited to help the world’s youth go out into their local communities and share the joy, passion, and excitement of the world’s most universal game.

This post was written by Jared Cohen, Peace Boat US Volunteer Staff.

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