Sharpie and The Players’ Tribune have teamed up to create a series around Uncap the Possibilities,
which shows how a Sharpie empowers people to unleash their imaginations – and express how they would like the world to be. Here, Alex Morgan explains what inspired her to support UNICEF Kid Power and give back.
A soccer ball can tell a story.
The one I’m thinking of… it was actually not a soccer ball at all. It was really just a bunch of old, balled T-shirts stuffed into a black plastic bag and wrapped in green thread – like twine from a bundle of newspapers. The plastic bag had holes in it, and through them you could see another layer – something brown, maybe cardboard – around the T-shirts. And, in the back, there had to be a rock or something, because the bullet was heavy. Too heavy to throw on the ground. You couldn’t really pass him more than five meters. I don’t think you can even play a full game with it.
I will never forget this soccer ball. Not because of what it looked like or what it felt like. But for what it represents.
For the story it tells.
My husband Servando and I both play soccer so we’re lucky to have the same offseason. And when we had a four week hiatus a few years ago, we wanted to do more than just take a vacation. We wanted to do something big – something where we could use our platform to spread football and have a significant impact on others. We knew we wanted to do something internationally, but we didn’t know where we wanted to go, or even where to start.
Then an opportunity presented itself through the US State Department to take advantage of a sports diplomacy program in collaboration with the Embassy in Tanzania.
So we decided to go to Africa.
The goal was to talk to school children and organize soccer clinics. But, having never been to Africa, we didn’t know what to expect.
After landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania, we got into a Land Rover type vehicle – an older model, exactly the kind you imagine taking for a desert walk – and drove for about a hour and a half to our first destination.
Most of the ride was through a flat, dry desert. The main airport road was paved, but once you got off it the roads were made of dirt and mostly lined with brown and gray brush. There was very little green.
We passed through several small towns and villages, where we saw people riding bikes and sitting outside small cafes and restaurants that were essentially huts – small buildings with tin roofs and walls made of tin. wooden planks covered with large woven bags, like the ones you would like to use for a potato sack run.
Most of the cars on the road were those old Mercedes Sprinter pickups, each painted with a different theme. One was on the theme of the United States. Another carried the Jamaican flag. One was painted in Real Madrid colors with Ronaldo on the side and another in Barcelona colors with a picture of Messi. One of them even had Elvis on it.
I asked our driver about the vans and he said they were for public transport. Each van had a route, just like any normal bus, and most people used them because very few people had cars.
It’s like living in New York City and taking a certain train to upscale neighborhoods and another to Brooklyn. In these villages you might take the Messi Line to work, or the Ronaldo to the market, or the Elvis to the next town.
We spent six days in Tanzania. Our first destination was in the northern region – the Monduli district of the Arusha region. We met children at Orkeeswa High School.
This is where I saw the makeshift soccer ball made from old T-shirts.
For some of these children, it was the only soccer ball they had ever known.
Monduli is home to very traditional African villages. Their houses are more like huts, made of sticks or cow dung. Locals dress in bright colors and sell bracelets and other handmade jewelry to tourists and visitors. They have no running water and there are little or no opportunities for any type of higher education.
But they are so passionate about football.
I saw the makeshift soccer ball made from old T-shirts. For some of these children, it was the only soccer ball they had ever known.
We saw the same passion when we left Monduli for Dar es Salaam, the most populous city in Tanzania, and Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. And at each new stop, we encountered children facing different obstacles.
Dar es Salaam is home to over 4.3 million people. There are a lot of people and there are not a lot of job opportunities. The gap between the rich and the lower class is incredible, and there is no such thing as a middle class. You are either rich or poor.
The overwhelming majority of the people there are poor.
Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, which presents many different challenges for young girls, in addition to those that other Tanzanian children already face. Some young girls I met had been completely disowned by their families just because they played football, which for girls was against the cultural norm.
But the common thread running through each of the communities Servando and I visited was the reason we went there in the first place.
The joy these children experienced playing soccer despite all the challenges they face in their day to day life was incredible.
Especially the girls.
Between football camps, we had small question-and-answer sessions or general discussions with the children. And while we tried to keep the boys and girls together, when it came time for the girls to have some of the most difficult conversations about their roles in society and the challenges they faced, Servando walked away with it. the boys and I stayed with the girls.
And I have to tell you that these girls… they were so bright and so confident. They had incredible energy.
But what really struck me was the amount of hope they had.
These young girls have very few role models to follow and there are no professional football leagues in Tanzania that they could aspire to play in. But they keep on dream. And despite everything around them suggesting otherwise, they believe their dreams are achievable. They want to one day represent their country at the Olympics, even though very few Tanzanian women have already qualified for the Olympics. They want to inspire the younger generation to love football the way they or they do – to show them that they are not limited in what they can accomplish just because of where they grew up or what their culture or society says.
And for kids growing up in circumstances like theirs – so they’ll have that kind of hope when they don’t even know what’s next, or if they even have a real chance for a future. .. so that they still believe and show that kind of determination?
It was really inspiring.
I will never forget this soccer ball.
While many of the kids Servando and I met had crampons, shin guards and real soccer balls, every time I think about our trip to Tanzania I always come back to this soccer ball – the one made from old people. T-shirts in a ball. It just sounds like a perfect metaphor for the basic necessities and opportunities that these kids lack.
And the luxury we have in this country that we take for granted.
I owe everything I have in my life to a number of things. My parents. My teammates. The great coaches that I had growing up. My work ethic.
But in the end, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for one thing.
A soccer ball.
This is where it all started for me.
A soccer ball can tell a story. And I sincerely hope that over time the stories that come from the young boys and girls we met in Tanzania will be more than just stories of hope.