We’ve all seen the television news reports and read accounts of the horrific conditions millions of children in Africa are forced to live in.
Among war-ravaged Darfur and AIDS-infested Zambia there sure isn’t very much for a young child to look forward to each day.
But those in the recreation profession here in the United States are helping to make a difference there--and you can be a part of these life-changing efforts, too. Together, we’re putting smiles on kids’ faces. We’re serving up slices of hope. We’re giving them the chance to participate in positive activities to fill their free time, and reduce the likelihood that they’ll turn to drugs, unprotected sex or other unhealthy pursuits.
And it’s all being done through the amazing power of sports.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports has created the Global Gear Drive to put sports equipment in the hands of children around the world who have absolutely nothing--and I do mean nothing.
We collect new and used sports equipment, apparel and gear--soccer balls, softballs, gloves, bats, jerseys, shin guards, cleats, etc.--from recreation agencies and ship the materials to those less-fortunate kids.
And thanks to FreightCenter coming on board as our official sponsor of the gear drive, the Florida-based company, guarantees significant discounts for any recreation department interested in sending sports equipment our way so we can distribute it around the globe at zero cost.
In Africa, the AIDS epidemic is cutting a path of mass destruction--with no sign of slowing down soon. Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region in the world. An estimated 24 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007, and another 1.9 million were infected with HIV during the same year.
And a sobering report released by the United Nations states that AIDS is on pace to kill half of all 15-year-olds in the countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa by 2012.
In Zambia--a country the Alliance has worked closely with for several years to give children a positive outlet through sports--more than one in every seven adults is living with HIV, and life expectancy has tumbled to an unthinkable 42 years, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Besides these countries being plagued by disease, there is staggering unemployment, jaw-dropping poverty and rampant drug use.
As 15-year-old Morgan Shulla of Zambia wrote to me after receiving a shipment of equipment, “Taking drugs was one way I thought problems in my life would end, before I tried sports and came to realize that there are better things to keep my life going as a youth other than drugs.”
Making A Difference
I’ve visited Zambia and seen firsthand what a difference even a used soccer ball has on a group of children. I’ve been to areas of India--ones that certainly aren’t part of any vacation tour packages--and watched youngsters savor having a real bat to wrap their hands around, and a ball to toss back and forth.
The letters of thanks pour in from kids so grateful for a used ball that in our country would be tossed in the trash once it became a little beat up.
This is where you come in.
If you’re purchasing some new equipment for programs and are ready to ditch the used stuff, I promise you there is a child who would love to have it.
The next time you come across a piece of equipment that isn’t being used, think about this note I received recently from 14-year-old Agness Phiri in Lusaka: “It makes me feel loved to receive a ball which I can play with.”
One ball really does make a difference.
Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org