Niamey, Niger, May 13th 2008
From: Ibbo Daddy Abdoulaye
Investigative Journalist – Niger, West Africa
Although I am not a soccer addict, I traveled all over Niger in order to help distribute over 2000 soccer balls in February 2008. The champion of this feat is quite a man that I had met only one month before through email. His name is Mike Mitchell and he belongs to a breed of people that could motivate anyone with his all-consuming passion and overflowing energy, possibly even the dead.
That explains how this crazy and fun-loving, former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Niger in the 1980s, recruited me in what I now regard an amazing adventure on the potholed, dusty roads and paths of Niger. This crazy road trip was a two week adventure, rushing around Niger with many unexpected stops at settlements or roadsides villages to give kids, generally kicking around an old sock full of rags, a real leather ball!
The dream conceived 25 years ago by Mike Mitchell who understood the universal language of soccer and global tool, the ball, when he brought a dozen of balls to Niger during his Peace Corps time as a youth coach in a far and remote town of Niger. As he enduringly put it, “The ball is the most effective tool to combat poverty and imbalance. People say, ‘Well, we need food, we need clothing, we need housing to help (the poor).’ All of that isn’t going to end the problem because it’s just too big. What is needed is energy. Energy harnessed into a single, positive frame of mind.”
I volunteered to get involved after hearing about this story through my virtual exchange with Mike. Honestly, no sooner that I promised to help with the promotion and communications that I was assailed by doubts. I asked myself, is it logical to leave my business to volunteer for two long weeks? Is it normal to go round giving soccer balls to children who obviously need a bowl of rice? But the enthusiasm of Mike and his team was so contagious that I soon forgot my worries. Moreover, it became obvious that it was a good decision for I have never seen such radiance as in the faces of these kids when we arrived, as if by magic, exchanging their rags ball with a brand new ball. I have never felt such a satisfaction. And I know what I am talking about because working as a field journalist; I covered many stories involving free food distribution or other humanitarian relief.But I never experienced such a noble act that doesn’t put the recipient in a position of inferiority.
The icing on the cake… At one of our unexpected stops was a toothless old man, who obviously didn’t know anything about soccer, but gave me a real lesson of soccer or rather a lesson of life. He pointed out to me that the soccer ball is like our millet ball (a popular Nigerien dish made of pounded millet and sour milk). Like the millet ball, people gather joyfully around the dish without any discrimination based on race, age, or gender . Like the millet ball dish, every person is eager to show how he maneuvers the soccer ball, just as it is with the ladle… I had never thought of it in this way.
Thank you Mike! By the way, when is the next Project Play trip?
Ibbo Daddy Abdoulaye