As we stepped out of a red metal door onto the makeshift soccer field, the children were already drilling for the game. These seventy children -- orphans from Les Amis de Jesus and Joie Timoun Yo (Joy for all Children) and children from the local community -- had been working hard for the last two months to prepare for this day. Now they were ready to kick-off the very first Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) Soccer Tournament .
The field was a vision of creativity. The children wore hand-made colorful t-shirts, and ran around with exuberance and purpose. The bright red mud, wet from the evening rain the day before, gave it a real field quality, but the lines made of rubble made it authentic. There is a lot of rubble in Haiti; millions of pieces of poorly mixed cement from disintegrated buildings abound in this country even without a recent earthquake, and I admired this resourceful repurposing of the material.
Lee Samuel, the head coach and founder of our soccer league in Ethiopia, started this program in Haiti. Lee was 18 years old when he went to Ethiopia for WWO, and now at 24 years old, he is a college graduate, seasoned teacher and coach. And he was calling out to the children in Creole as I approached him to say good morning.
The tournament began with the dedication to Kohl Angelo, a boy from my hometown of Maplewood, NJ, who had died on July 24th of a brain tumor. I showed the t-shirt with his name and number signed by the kids. I will give it to his family when I return home.
The games got underway. The kids were skilled and ambitions, and there were many awesome moments of goals and assists extraordinaire. And for every great play, the kids high-fived with high pitched glee as they fell on one another and then separated to continue the game. Sportsmanship reigned and physical exhaustion never lessened the effort in each match. Though there were no uniforms per se, the colored t-shirts with the team name (name of orphanage) made me very proud. I longed for jerseys, shin guards and cleats because they make the game safer, official and more skilled, but these will come in time with more financial support through WWO.
Andrew Garfield, our new Ambassador of Sport, officiated at the game and then played during a match just before the rain came. There was a generous lunch of rice, beans, and chicken served on the field. The paper plates were piled high with what was likely the one meal of the day for many of these children. The children sat quietly not eating for a very long time until everyone was served and they said grace. We wondered why they were waiting because it was past lunchtime and they had earned a good meal, but it was obvious to those who knew the culture.
During the break, the children were configured in a huge circle and the usual games of childhood suddenly began. I wasn't sure what was happening for a moment, but then I realized that 70 children (and a few staff) were playing "Duck, Duck, Goose." It was spectacularly comedic. The fun of the unpredictable pick and then the wild running to escape being tapped has been replayed millions of time in the world, but at that moment, I felt nothing was more perfect than this game on this day.
The games resumed; the girls' match was especially festive. A number of them wore green t-shirts had styled their hair so that the center was groomed way high with the sides braided tightly like a Mohawk. They were standouts at the tournament.
Monley, the boy who survived 9 days in the rubble of his home when the earthquake hit in January 2010, was invited to join the soccer event along with his two brothers, his Uncle Gary and other family members. It was wonderful to see little Monley at 8 years old running strongly across the field. He has come a long way since that tragic moment.
The sky darkened after lunch and the cool air covered us. We knew that the rain was nigh and the last match began with the knowledge that the rain would come before it ended. My two sons, Ben and Des, played as did Andrew and the man from Puma, Noah Gonzalez. It was a lovely way to finish a most perfect day in Kenscoff. We all quickly left the field and were driven back to our compound with sweet conversations about the games. It is an athletic tradition to relive the moments of glory and friendship.
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