Group's Goal: Outfit Children in Iraq for Soccer
Saturday, June 14, 2008
In Iraq's Muthanna province, young men play soccer on trash-strewn dirt lots, kicking with their bare feet whatever they can find -- sometimes a deflated ball, sometimes an empty soda can.
Soccer in Muthanna offers a stark contrast to the competitive leagues in the prosperous Washington suburbs. So some Fairfax County soccer players and their parents are partnering with U.S. diplomats to build in Muthanna a network of soccer fields and organize a youth league modeled after those in the United States.
Vienna Youth Soccer parent volunteers are raising money and collecting used uniforms, balls, cleats and other soccer equipment from the league's 3,500 players to ship to Iraq. The charity drive ends tomorrow, but already parent organizer Erin Tesch has nearly 1,000 jerseys spilling across her garage.
"If every kid can get one or two jerseys, balls, cleats and shin guards, that would be phenomenal," Tesch said as she took inventory of the donated gear with her 12-year-old twins, Brian and Kevin.
"Our kids use this for one year and then we dump it or give it to Goodwill, so we might as well give it to kids in Iraq who have nothing," Tesch said of a jersey.
The charity drive illustrates the globalization of giving. "The people in the community want to make a difference in the lives in Iraq," Brian Tesch said.
Tesch's teammates, Gates Young, 12, and David Andrews, 12, said they often think about children their age in Iraq.
"If they're just in their house all day thinking about the war, they'll probably not be very fit and get bored," Young said. "But if they have soccer equipment, they'll be able to go outside and play and have something to do in their free time."
"We can help them," Andrews added.
The players are so eager to communicate with the Iraqi children that they are looking for someone fluent in the language who can write notes that can be included with the soccer equipment.
Paul O'Friel, who is leading the U.S. reconstruction effort in Muthanna, showered praise on the families donating equipment.
"It's a fantastic effort, and I think it showcases all the best in terms of the American character and the American spirit in trying to help people," O'Friel said.