This winter break, several USC students will travel to Africa with a team of 40 people to take part in “Steps over Swaziland.”
SOS is a campaign intended to bring relief and awareness to Swaziland, a small country in Africa that has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS.
According to Abhirukt Sapru, a sophomore majoring in business administration who will be taking part in the trip, statistics predict that by the year 2020, the AIDS epidemic could be responsible for the death of Swaziland’s adult population.
“A lot of the funds and resources are going to much bigger countries with problems of less magnitude,” Sapru said. “What we hope that SOS will do is draw people’s attention to Swaziland and actually help people understand the real dire problems that are going on there.”
One World Futbol Project collaborated with FUNDaFIELD, a non-profit organization co-founded by USC students Garrett Weiss and his brother, Kyle, to organize SOS.
The organization fundraises to build soccer fields in impoverished communities. The One World Futbol Project joined FUNDaFIELD to provide highly durable — if not entirely indestructible — soccer balls to complement the fields, Garrett Weiss said.
“We’ll be going to about five [community centers] and holding soccer tournaments there, doing clothing exchanges — that kind of thing for the orphanages — as well as giving out AIDS awareness information the entire time and lots of AIDS prevention resources,” said Garrett Weiss, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
The USC students on the FUNDaFIELD team will be dribbling one of One World’s soccer balls across Swaziland — a journey that is approximately 130 miles.
They will run about 10 to 15 miles each day and deliver the One World soccer balls, jerseys and HIV/AIDS resources at community centers for orphans along the way, Weiss said.
FUNDaFIELD plans to construct a field at El Shaddai orphanage, the last stop on their trip.
To some, the idea of devoting funds to developing soccer fields and distributing balls might seem to detract resources from solving the severe problems at hand, such as HIV/AIDS, said Tim Jahnigen, inventor of the One World Futbol.
However, both FUNDaFIELD and the One World Futbol project acknowledge the significance soccer has on children in poverty, Jahnigen said.
“Play and sports reinforce community and conflict resolution and all kinds of things,” Jahnigen said.
Jahnigen said he was inspired to create a lasting soccer ball for the One World Futbol Project after watching a documentary about the children in Darfur refugee camps who resorted to playing soccer with balls made of trash. Although many relief efforts have been put in place to help these children, the soccer balls provided don’t last long before they are punctured or otherwise destroyed, he said.
“Our vision is to support the work of organizations like FUNDaFIELD,” Jahnigen said. “If you can provide a ball that doesn’t go flat into an environment that is incredibly poor but full of children, it allows the children to play to their hearts’ content instead of until the ball is destroyed.”
One World hopes to distribute one million balls to poor communities across the globe within three years, Jahnigen said. So far, around 15,000 balls have been provided through donations and their “buy one, give one” commercial program.
“When I had the idea for the ball, it was only meant for children in harsh environments and the idea of making money off of it or making a business out of it was the last thing on my mind. It was just really thinking about children, their needs,” Jahnigen said. “That part of the story has always been the major driving force behind the project.”
For SOS, Jahnigen said he hopes to be able to provide between 500 to 1,000 balls for the FUNDaFIELD team to deliver to Swaziland.
“We’re all ecstatic, we’re all really looking forward to it,” Sapru said. “We all just can’t wait.”
Weiss said he is also enthusiastic for the upcoming SOS trip.
“Once you go to Africa, you are able to realize the effects of your work and you’re able to see what else needs to be done,” Weiss said. “When you go, you just get so excited to do more and I’m hoping that’s what comes out of this for everyone else on the trip.”