DAY 1: LANDED

Pop Quiz. What's the first thing you feel when you step off a plane in Africa for the first time in your life? Answer: Everything. When we landed this morning, to be honest, I had a mix of emotions that I have never felt all at the same time before. To list a few:

  1. Extremely happy
  2. Extremely nervous
  3. Extremely tired
  4. Extremely (and most importantly) excited

As you can tell, my emotions were pretty, well, extreme, and they still are. It's a good thing though. I think it means I'm finally in a place that makes me really feel. 

With a camera bag in the overhead and 100lbs of cleats in the cargo space, we smiled. We made it. We're actually in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Because of the time change, it was morning when we stepped off the plane. Luckily, our excitement topped our jet lag and we started the day. After dropping our bags at the guest house, we headed to a village called Korah. Korah is one of the poorest communities in Addis Ababa and is known as the "trash dump community" because the families only survive by begging and eating from the trash dump that surrounds the village. When we arrived at Korah, we handed out food to the families that were sponsored, or in other words, taken care of by a family in America. Sad yet beautiful, the families stood in the pouring rain waiting for their turn to receive their donations. 

It wasn't long before soccer found it's way to us. In the middle of handing out food, a few boys came into the room and said hi. We talked for a while and built the quickest bond I've ever felt. When we left the building, they came with us and we held hands everywhere we went. In Ethiopia this is a sign of friendship and was incredibly heart warming to experience. We walked the streets and laughed for hours. We eventually learned the boys were all best friends and play in a soccer league together.  They said they get together and practice every Tuesday and Thursday. We asked them if they had soccer cleats and they said no. When we told them we had cleats for them, they were ecstatic. It. was. awesome. Their smiles were cheek to cheek and so were ours. 

On top of THAT moment, the best moment today was sending these pictures back home to the people tagged on the cleats. Being able to show someone back home how they changed someones life is amazing, sweet, and absolutely priceless.  "This makes me so happy!" "I'm gonna cry this is so special." 

The feels are real right now but we're excited to continue to do what we do out here. Day 1 was incredible so I can only imagine what's next. 

DAY 2: INSIDE

 

Being back in Korah for day two was great because we got to see all the little kids we met yesterday again. What was not so great was learning how these families truly lived in this village. For the first half of the day we visited families' homes in Korah and went inside to see their home conditions. The houses were made of metal sheets, tarp, cloth, and string at most, and we could only fit a few people in at a time. We listen to the mothers speak about their lives, their child clinging to their leg. With heartache in their eyes, most explained how they are living with a disability, usually leprosy, and how their husbands left them because of this. Many of the mothers said they send their son off to the trash dumb everyday to search for food while they go to the streets and beg for money.

A young boy name Bira explained life like this as "a life where you do not think about next week or next month, the only thing you think about is will I survive today. Because you don't know if there will be a tomorrow."  

When we are at home, safe in our houses in America, we only see these types of things from the outside; TV commercials, newspapers, articles, etc. But when you're there, and you're inside it, there are no words to explain how much it will make you open your eyes to how people are really living in the rest of the world. This type of eye opening experience is driving me more than I ever thought it would to make a difference in these kids' lives. 

The second half of the day was spent at an orphanage across town. This orphanage was a mix of boys and girls, young and old that were so excited to see us. When we got there, most of the group handed out toys and candy to the little kids.

On the left though there was a group of about 10 teenage boys just overlooking everything that was going on. Jordan and I made our way over and started talking to a boy wearing a Real Madrid jersey. They talked about how they have a field at the orphanage this will be finished soon thanks to Mark and Chris, two amazing people from our group. When we grabbed a soccer ball and started a juggling circle, the boys started to smile. What was amazing about these next few minutes was that even though we did not speak the same language as them, we communicated effortlessly through the game. We learned that some of these boys had untapped potential. One boy lead the group in perfect harmony. It was easy to tell that he was a leader. His motions with the ball and his understanding of the game displayed his intelligence and when he spoke he used big english words that were complicated to others. It was easy to tell that this boy was special and it broke our hearts that he could be anything he wanted to be in this world, but didn't have the resources to get there. This one boy has influenced us to work harder to make Cleats Count an organization that provides opportunity to anyone who wants it. 

DAY 3: "BALL, HELP"

When I woke up this morning I had no idea what I was about to discover. Us being Americans, there are things in life that we never have to deal with or that don't even cross ours mind as possibilities. But today we experienced first hand how tough life really is for some. 

The first place we visited today was an orphanage full of young boys and girls. Wether they were new borns or teenagers, all of these kids were living life without a mother or and father. Within moments of our arrival, a truck pulled in and two men stepped out. They were carrying two newborn babies that had just been found on the side of the street. Sometimes in Ethiopia, the living conditions are so bad that mothers will purposely leave their babies on the street in hope they he or she will be found and brought to an orphanage to live a better life than the mother could have given them. It was pretty heart-rending to see these little kids living life without the affection of a mom or dad, and unfortunately, many of them will be brought into the orphanage as babies and stay there until they are grown. 

From one bunch of kids to the next, we headed to a community called Entoto Mountain. Entono Mountain is like Korah, but without the trash dump as a source of food. People on this mountain are truly living with nothing. But without fail, left, right, center, you name it, there was soccer games going on. A little boy and girl juggled to the right and a small sided game was played on the left. We headed to the back though where there was a crowd of ten or fifteen boys were playing pick up. They caught a glimpse of us and stopped their game. I pointed to my feet and said, "Can I play with you?" Their faces lit up and they all waved their arms and said yes. I hopped onto the field and they let me right into the game. Their field may have been dirt and their goals may have been tree stumps , but the they were having the time of their lives out there with us. Nutmegs, maradonas, through balls, snakes, you name it, we were doing it. And we were smiling and laughing from the second we started to the second we stopped. 

After a game to five, the boys gathered around and pointed to their ball. They said "ball, help." At first I didn't understand but then saw the huge bubble in the ball. The outer skin had ripped from use and the rubber inside was sticking out, making the ball lopsided. The boys had their hands together, shaking them in front of their faces. Jordan and I looked at each other and grinned. "New ball? New ball." They boys went nuts. They drowned us in hugs and high fives because they were getting a new ball.

72 hours ago, to me, it was just a soccer ball. Now, I understand that to some kids across the world, a ball is everything.   

DAY 4: WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

It's hard to believe that it's already the last full day of the trip. On the contrary though, today was the day that involved the most soccer! When we headed to an orphanage called Hope For The Hopeless, I didn't know what to expect, since it was an orphanage for older kids closer to my age. I arrived in my old David Villa jersey, and all the boys wearing soccer jerseys pointed to me. We of course talked about soccer within the first five minutes. They gave us a tour of their bedrooms where collages of photos of American families that had sponsored them flooded the walls. When we headed back downstairs, we sat around the room and listened to the stories of some of the kids; where they came from, how they got to where they are, and most importantly, where they want to go. A boy name Munir who looked to be about 16 told a story that really hit me in the feels. He said he always had a mother but life was too tough for her with him, so he came to H4H selflessly. He spoke for a while and started to tear up by the end...so did I. Munir closed his story with words that could have opened the most closed eye known to man.

"All I know is I'm supposed to be here. I know there is a plan for me, a destiny, I have never doubted it."

After Munir finished speaking, it was my turn. I stood in front of the room and told my story. Where I came from; Rhode Island. How I got here; passion, dedication, and ambition to bring the game to the kids who really need it. And where I'm going; somewhere that matters. I told Munir that I'm here to gives these kids opportunity. What if Munir's destiny was to be on the Ethiopian National Team and he never got the chance to find out? I'm here to bring him his gear and put that dream in reach. When I said that he smiled almost as big as he did when he actually received his cleats. 

MUNIR

MUNIR

That night we went over to the dirt fields down the street and set up a pickup game. Three teams, winner stays. We played till the sun went down and it was insane.

We live our lives according to an outdated, less valid, image of what is real. Well let me tell you. This was real. And we have the power to change it. 

You have two choices in this world. You can choose to watch it happen or you can choose to make it happen. Help us make it happen.

And even more importantly, help us make it count.