Niger, West Africa
I am a volunteer in the Gaya region of Niger, living in a rural village of around 1000. An avid soccer player myself, I was thrilled that Project Play came through and were generous enough to donate soccer balls, pumps and needles to be used in my village.
Before bringing Project Play balls to the primary school in my village, the forty-three boys were sharing the one tattered ball that they had. The sixteen school girls on the other hand had nothing to play with so they went straight home after school. One can only imagine the joy and excitement as the school received four shiny new Project Play balls - two for the boys and two for the girls.
I began coming to the school grounds daily to coach the children and play soccer with them. I have focused most of my time with the girls who really have opened up to playing soccer and really enjoy it. They always wear their long shorts beneath their traditional outfits so that as soon as school is out they can begin playing soccer. At first the girls were shy and unsure of themselves but now they are outside every day playing small-sided games or their version of penalty kicks.
The older school boys worked to clear a plot on the school grounds, ridding the area of thorns. We all worked hard for over a week bringing small rocks to create a boundary for the main playing fiels as well as setting up goals with wooden posts along with the plastic bag soccer nets made locally in the village with the help of students, village men and even our village chief.
At the primary school there is a daily break from 12-3 pm, yet ever since the PP balls arrived, most of the children show up around an hour early just to get an extra hour of soccer in before class resumes. When class lets out around 5:30pm the kids rush out to play soccer and most stay until dark.
I recently gave a Project Play ball to the guys group in my village (ages 15-25). It’s great to see them play every evening as they are quite competitive and many villagers come out to watch them play.
As part of my agreement to donate balls to the primary school, the children collected money to buy glue in order to glue the seams to help them last longer as most things in this country quickly fall apart. They have also set money aside to buy rubber patches in case a thorn punctures the ball, which happens quite often in the village. I’ve noticed that no matter the quality or strength of the ball, they do not last too terribly long here; there are just too many thorns out in the bush. Saying that though, the children take care of the balls as much as they can and have learned a great deal of responsibility in the process.
Project Play has been a huge motivation for the students to attend and work hard at school. Those who do not show up to class or those who are not enrolled in school do not get the opportunity to play with the balls. My headmaster and I recently began a village-wide campaign to recruit school children, especially girls, and soccer is a positive means of motivation.
For me, the best part of Project Play and its impact has been to see the excitement of all of the children, especially the girls, each day when school lets out. They all run out with their soccer balls and play until dark. Not only is soccer a great form of exercise, but great for the children’s self esteem and well being. Just seeing the kids smiling, laughing and having fun is enough for me - Project Play is making an impact on these children’s lives!