World Cup 2014

Having a Ball

Meet Ethan King, age 15, the founder of soccer organization Charity Ball

June 05, 2014
IAN ALLEN

 

Ethan King delivers soccer balls to kids through his organization, Charity Ball.

Ethan King, 15, is the founder of Charity Ball, an organization that raises money to hand-deliver soccer balls to kids in developing countries. A donation of $25 on charityball.org pays for one soccer ball. The idea came from a trip Ethan took with his dad—who repairs water wells in poor African villages—to Mozambique at age 10.

To date, Ethan and Charity Ball have delivered more than 4,000 soccer balls. They also collaborated with Serbian soccer star Neven Subotić to put together a soccer tournament for kids in Mozambique. The tournament is featured in a new short documentary called Pass the Ball (watch it below). TFK spoke to Ethan, who is from Grand Haven, Michigan, about his organization.

Ethan plays ball with kids in Mozambique.

IAN ALLEN
Ethan plays ball with kids in Mozambique.

TFK:

You brought your soccer ball on that trip to Mozambique when you were 10. How did the kids there react to seeing it?

ETHAN:

When we got there, my dad, through his organization, had already identified nonfunctioning wells in specific villages. So every time we made a stop, I would pull out my soccer ball from home. It was so crazy because instantly, 50-100 kids would just show up out of nowhere wanting to play with my soccer ball. It's probably the first time they ever touched a real soccer ball. They had been using trash bags wrapped up in twine. So it was very emotional for them. There was lots of energy and excitement and faces full of joy.

TFK:

You ended up giving the ball to some of the kids. What happened after you returned home?

ETHAN:

It took about a month to figure out that I wanted to organize a project. At the time, my idea was a yearlong project dedicated to getting kids soccer balls. My dad's organization travels to Africa at least two or three times a year. So my plan was to try to get some soccer balls together for him to bring to Mozambique every time he went. But it turned into something bigger.

TFK:

Did you find it challenging to convince companies and people to donate money?

ETHAN:

It's kind of funny because the first phone call I made was to a soccer shop in Tennessee. I told the manager that I'd [shopped there] before and about what I was doing—that I'm getting kids soccer balls around the world. I asked if he would like to help out, and he said, “No. That's a cool idea, but we are not really interested in doing that right now.” So I hung up the phone and [realized] it was going to be harder than what I thought, just getting some kids some soccer balls. That was a learning experience for me right away.

TFK:

The charity hand-delivers the balls. Why?

ETHAN:

We said from the beginning that we don't want to ship the balls because we've had a lot of trouble in the past with customs, especially in developing countries. We want to make sure the ball actually ends up in the kid’s hands. On the website, we have a whole gallery of soccer balls that have been hand-delivered. Donors like to know where their money is going. It’s one of my favorite parts of Charity Ball, getting the pictures back and seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces.

TFK:

How does having access to a soccer ball affect the kids you serve?

ETHAN:

Soccer is the universal language, in my opinion. Pretty much everyone in the world knows what soccer is. Especially in Africa, these kids really connect with soccer. They don't need pads, all they need is a ball to make something happen.

TFK:

How did the PLAY [well] Cup tournament come about?

ETHAN:

It was awesome. Professional soccer player Neven Subotić, [who plays for a club] out of Germany, emailed me and we started brainstorming ideas. We came up with the idea of doing a soccer tournament for kids in Mozambique called the PLAY [well] Cup. Instantly, we had 16 teams signed up and ready to play, which was about 350 kids participating in the tournament. Adidas [donated] soccer balls, and every kid in the tournament got their own ball and uniform.

For the final, it seemed like everybody from the village came out to watch the game, . There were so many people there. It was such a cool experience, once in a lifetime for them, but also for me.


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