A Kid With A Ball
A great philanthropist once said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity or a certain age to make a difference.” That philanthropist’s name is Ethan King, and as of this writing, he is fourteen years old.
Ethan is a kid from Michigan who likes to play soccer. He’s also the founder of a global charity, who decided to ignore the fact that kids his age don’t normally found charities, and that people can’t singlehandedly fix the world. Instead, he decided to focus on what he could do, what he can fix, and that the word normally means absolutely nothing.
As Ethan himself tells it, it all started in 2009 in a village called Ntette in Mozambique.1 Ethan had traveled to the southern African country with his Dad, who was working to repair water wells in the area. Before the trip started, Ethan decided to bring a soccer ball along, thinking he might get the chance to play pick-up games with local kids.
When he went out into the street, little did he know that a simple kick-about with a ball would lead to so much more.
“When we arrived at the village of Ntette,” Ethan says, “I threw my ball and in a matter of seconds, 50 kids were playing.”
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, but the irony is that there are thousands of children all over the globe who don’t get a chance to play it. Kids in rural or impoverished countries often don’t have the access to real soccer balls, or the money to pay for them. As a result, they’re forced to improvise.
“I’ve discovered that many kids in poor countries want to play soccer,” Ethan explains, “but they can’t because they don’t have a ball. If they do have a ball, it’s typically a bunch of plastic garbage bags wadded up and wrapped with twine and it doesn’t last very long.” Even the legendary Pelé learned to play using a rolled-up sock stuffed with rags, or by playing with a grapefruit. (Yes, a grapefruit.)
While playing with the local kids, Ethan noticed how delighted they were to play with a real ball. So when it was time to go, he decided to leave the ball with them. “As I watched the kids play, it was hard for me to think that I would be heading back to the States where I had several soccer balls in my garage just sitting there. These kids in the village had none.”
So Ethan decided to leave the ball as a gift.
As he walked away, one of the boys took the ball and ran up to him, offering it back. “I said to him, ‘No, this is yours. I’ve given it to you.’ Immediately they ran, laughed, and cheered like they had just won the lottery!” Ethan says. The gift of a simple, actual ball was enough to bring joy to their lives.
So Ethan decided, why stop at one?
When he returned home, he personally began to call up corporations, asking for donations.2 He spoke to other kids and parents while at soccer games. His own organization, Charity Ball, was born. With a $25 donation, Charity Ball hand-delivers a brand new soccer ball to kids around the world who can’t afford to buy one. In the past four years, over 4,000 balls have been delivered in 22 countries.
Some people may ask, “Why start a charity based on delivering soccer balls when there are so many other causes that deserve attention?” Ethan’s philosophy is simple: because it brings joy. And joy is a commodity the world can never have too much of. Furthermore, the children in many of these countries have to contend with disease, war, and other hardships. While there are many charities helping to combat these miseries, too few provide an escape from them. The simple act of playing soccer, of having fun, is that escape.
Joy can’t remove hardship. But it can help people cope with hardship. Sounds like a worthy cause to me.
Not all of us will have the ability to start our own charity, but we can all follow this young man’s example. Spreading joy is as valuable an endeavor as anything else we do in this life. And as a wise philanthropist once said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity or a certain age to make a difference.”
Words to live by.
If you would like to learn more about Ethan and his organization, visit www.charityball.org.
1 “Charity Ball Founder: Ethan King, the Guy Who Started Charity Ball.” Accessed Friday, March 28, 2014. http://charityball.org/charity-ball-founder/
2 Sharon Cotliar, “Teen Gives 4,000 Soccer Balls to Kids Around the World,” People Magazine, March 13, 2014. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20796491,00.html