The founders of Wellesley’s 24 Hours of Barefoot Soccer charity event – which will kick off for the third year in a row this Friday – finally got a chance to see their fundraising dollars in action this summer, when they traveled to the city of Khayelitsha in South Africa in June and July.
Owen, 17, and his father Peter Diana are the father-son team behind the annual event that raises money for Grassroot Soccer, a Vermont-based charity that teaches African children about AIDS using games like soccer.
“It was incredibly heartwarming,” said Peter Diana. “It was obvious that the kids that were there were having a great time, it was a great thing in their lives – an important thing in their lives.”
24 Hours of Barefoot Soccer is just what it sounds like: players donate a minimum of $25 for the chance to kick off their shoes and play soccer under the stars at Hunnewell Field in Wellesley. Their entry fee represents the cost to enroll one African child in the Grassroot program. Grassroot Soccer has educated half a million children.
In Khayelitsha, the Diana family – Owen, Peter, Angie, then 14, and Peter’s wife Brenda visited the Football Center for Hope – a soccer-based educational center founded by Grassroot Soccer.
Khayelitsha has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in South Africa, according to a 2008 report http://www.msf.or.jp/info/pressreport/pdf/2009_hiv01.pdf put together by the Western Cape Province Department of Health, the City of Cape Town Department of Health, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the University of Cape Town, with an antenatal HIV prevalence of 30.2%. Most of its 500,000 inhabitants live in informal housing and suffer from high rates of poverty, unemployment and crime.
At the Center for Hope, the Dianas watched AIDS training in action: local children played games like Simon Says, and used a hidden tennis ball to represent the AIDS virus: the lesson they learn is that you can’t see AIDS – you must get tested.
Over the past two years, the Dianas, working with friends, have raised about $22,000 for Grassroot Soccer – enough to enroll 880 African children in the program.
Watching the children play, said Diana, brought home the reality of just how big a role Grassroot Soccer plays in their lives.
“It was obvious, as you drove around, that there was nothing to do there. They had no entertainment. It was severe poverty,” said Diana. “This gave them a place to play and a place to have good role models.”
This year’s 24 Hours of Barefoot Soccer tournament will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17, and the players won’t stop until 6 p.m. on Saturday. Everybody gets a t-shirt.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org