When the glory and the heartbreak of the World Cup is shining through flatscreen TVs in our living rooms, it's easy to forget that the sport reigns supreme in many areas of the Earth where people can barely afford to play the game.
When Ethan King left his home in Michigan to visit Mozambique with his father in 2009, he saw children playing soccer with balls made from plastic bags wrapped in twine. Ethan also saw, for the very first time, kids raising kids because older generations had died of disease. Although the reality before him was jarring, he saw an opportunity to help through a simple object: a soccer ball.
"When I left [Mozambique], I gave away the soccer ball," Ethan, now 10, said in a video featuring his story produced by the I Like Giving campaign. "And the kids went wild, started cheering. It was crazy."
He realized then that soccer balls could spur a lot of positive change.
Five years after his visit to Mozambique, Ethan's nonprofit, Charity Ball, has delivered about 4,000 soccer balls to underserved communities in 22 countries, according to Fox 11 News. When supporters donate $25 to the organization, a soccer ball is donated to children who wouldn't have one otherwise.
— Ethan King (@charityballnews) June 25, 2014
Ethan celebrates another Charity Ball donation to a village in South Africa on his Twitter account.
But when so many of the same communities that Charity Ball serves are grappling with humanitarian crises -- such as a lack of clean water or quality education -- why give soccer balls?
"There's something about a soccer ball -- it can bridge ethnicities, it can give a kid who has a mom or dad on a death bed some hope, give them a coping mechanism," Ethan's dad, who helped launch the nonprofit, said in the video. "I think it's really cool when you can take what you love doing and use it to make the world a better place."
According to the nonprofit, allowing kids to play soccer also reduces crime, gives children a sense of value and promotes friendship within a community.
Launching Charity Ball wasn't easy. The first cold call Ethan made to solicit ball donations resulted in quick, hard-to-swallow rejection. But he kept trying. Eventually, major athletic equipment producers, like Franklin, Rawlings and Wilson, jumped on board.
It's no secret that soccer's positive influences reach far beyond the playing field, and the World Cup has created the perfect opportunity to change lives through the sport.
The Football for Development Project is utilizing the global event in Brazil to highlight all positive developments soccer has brought to underserved communities -- not only in the World Cup's host country, but around the world. The initiative works with local organizations to strengthen community ties by using a common interest in soccer. Regular meetings and local projects promote youth leadership, gender equality, peace-building and health education.
"Once they are on the [soccer field], it is easy to transform their passion for the game into meaningful life skills, boosting their employability, teaching them about health risks or fostering peaceful reconciliation between rival groups," Street Football World, of which the initiative is part, states on its website.
As far as soccer's positive effect on those who play, Ethan believes it comes down to equalizing the athletes -- it's all about having a good time, after all.
"When the ball's on the ground and everyone's playing," Ethan said in an interview with Fox 11 News. "It doesn't matter where you're at, as long as you're having fun."
To learn more about Charity Ball, visit the organization's website.