From Kansas to Haiti . . . Connecting with Haitian youth, one kick at a time

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Bigger than the Super Bowl, bigger than the WorldSeries, and even bigger than the Olympics— Spain is the winner in the 2010 soccer World Cup.

But there are other soccer champions, too. Take the kids who live in the little community of Limenade in northern Haiti, for example.

This fall, the Haitian youngsters will be able to play like champions, thanks to a gift of soccer balls from the graduates of Holy Spirit School in Overland Park.

This past spring the 55-member graduating class of Holy Spirit eighth graders decided to take a different approach to the traditional class gift. Rather than give something to the school, they decided to look beyond the school walls to someone in need.

In the news at that time were the devastating earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. So the soon-to-be graduates starting thinking of sending something to the kids in Haiti — Bibles, perhaps.

Bill Scholl, consultant for the archdiocesan office of social justice, learned of the eighth-graders’ project and mentioned it to Pat Devine, a member of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park.

Devine, a probation officer, is studying for a graduate certificate program in Promoting Community Health and Development through the University of Kansas. He takes trips to Haiti as part of the program, where he works with an interfaith effort called “Sonje Ayiti,” Haitian Creole for “Remember Haiti.”

“I said, ‘They could really use something simple — like soccer balls,’” said Devine. “Bill Scholl said, ‘Great! I’ll get back to you.’”

Scholl put Devine in touch with Rachel Hunt, one of a group of Holy Spirit parents helping the students with the class gift.

And very soon, a lot of new soccer balls and pumps were Haiti-bound. The pumps are important, because the balls will be deflated in order to save space during shipping.

American kids often take simple things, like soccer balls, for granted, said a student.

But there’s no chance of that with Haitian youngsters. Even if the nearest Toys“R”Us were not 700 miles away in Miami, they have no money for toys. Often, a Haitian soccer ball is just a wad of trash.

But the Holy Spirit students did manage to work a bit of their original idea into their final gift. Each inscribed his or her favorite Scripture verse on a soccer ball — both personalizing and spiritualizing their gift.

“I chose [as my verse] 1 Cor 13:13: ‘So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love,’”said recent graduate Sarah Brekke. “I hope [this gift] will mean that they have something of their own and that they learn more about God and love him and have faith in him.”

Other students said they participated in the gift project because they were grateful for all the good things they have and wanted to respond with generosity to those who have little. Others see it as a gesture of promise.

“We hope this will be a sign of hope,” said graduate Mary Catherine DiGiacinto. “It’s not just big-name organizations who donate, but average people, too, who want to reach out to [the Haitians] and make their lives better.”

And if the Haitian kids don’t understand the loftier aspects of their intentions, said graduate Thomas Martin, that’s OK, too.

Devine will return to Haiti in October or November. He’ll take with him for Limenade all the balls (and pumps) donated by the Holy Spirit graduates, where they’ll be given to families with children, orphanages, and a community center.

“There isn’t much in the way of any organized activities [for kids in Haiti],”said Devine. “There aren’t many coaches or athletic fields.

“But if you give a kid a ball, no matter what, teams form.”

“And then they have teamwork and sportsmanship,” he continued. “People come together to cheer on the neighborhood team.

“It’s a very simple way of community building.”

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