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The Journey of a Soccer Ball Shaped Heart

by Nina Fader

When I was in 10th grade, I realised I wanted to study public service fields in order to provide every child the opportunity to play soccer and have the equipment they need. This was sparked when I saw vast poverty for the first time on my first out of the country experience to Nicaragua in 2009. So by 2014, the choice of which study abroad program I would go on came down to which one allowed me the best opportunity to see an organisation provide for those who are without. Traveling by trains around Europe or walking the beaches of Australia were enticing, but I decided to travel to a third world country in Africa. CIEE Iringa Tanzania Fall Semester had three components: study, research, and volunteer.

At the first moment to shop after landing, I bought a soccer ball from the mall. To me a soccer ball is like a security blanket. Seeing one, fiddling with one, and knowing the possibility of a game with one laying around gives me comfort and hope. The bright yellow ball traveled with me on the bus 13 hours through the mountains inland to the medium-sized city of Iringa where the university was for us to live and study at for the next few months. The university was up a hill at the edge of the city, so to get to restaurants and stores we took the dala-dala (a 15 passenger van used for public transit) for only 25 cents a ride. Every day on this ride we would pass a large undeveloped dirt lot behind a school where children were frequently playing at like a park. To clear our brains midway through the semester three of us ladies decided to walk down the street to the park and have an impromptu game day with as many kids as we could rally. My secret weapon: carrying the magnetic soccer ball. Kids started following me, yelling “Muzungu.” We provided free child care for a handful of hours while we played soccer, taught them patty cake, twirled around, and had fun with the camera. This joy-filled afternoon, we volunteered when we didn’t have to volunteer.

In the rural village of Mufindi some weeks later, our program formally partnered with Foxes NGO to volunteer for two weeks at the AIDS Orphanage Village. Our projects varied from education to labor to dispersing food. The NGO was not very organised and didn’t utilise us for as many hours of the day as I thought they would. I also had much less choice in the volunteering activity than was told to me before. Feeling a little disappointed and unclear of my purpose, I began counting down the days until departure and planning something exciting. I gave the ball away in the village. How typical for a Westerner to leave behind possessions as an act of good deeds and sacrifice as a response to all they have witnessed. But to make myself not feel like such a cliche, I picked the boy who I had observed to be a strong leader to be the new guardian of the ball and made him agree to share with his friends.

This story and many other details around it lead me to get a master’s degree so I could write a thesis on how soccer is not just a sport, but there is emotion, hope, and community balled up together. My heart grew for my passion over the years since it took root and there is a special place in my soccer ball shaped heart for Tanzania. If given the chance I would return to Tanzania and feel very familiar with the city of Iringa. I actually applied to lead high school students working with a women’s soccer program in the same city and was not selected. I do hope to take another volunteer trip soon. I have a couple teaching soccer in mind. And one would be to a very random country. I’ll leave that mystery hanging.


Council on International Education Exchange
300 Fore St. Portland, ME 04101
Phone: 207-553-4000
Justin Beckam – resident director –