Harnessing Haiti's Football Fever
As the world's most elite athletes vie for the World Cup title in South Africa, one professional soccer player brought fresh signs of hope to his fellow Haitians' still desperate situation for one weekend.
Piles of rubble fill the streets of Port-Au-Prince, and hundreds of thousands of families still live in tents as hurricane season rapidly approaches. In one tent city of about 15,000 people, aid workers are fighting an outbreak of typhoid. But for a few hours in late June, Haitian children learned soccer skills from one of their own.
(This story continues after the video.)
Born and raised in Haiti, Ricardo Pierre-Louis made the Haitian national team at 17; but getting there wasn't easy. His parents couldn't afford to give him the 25 cents needed to buy a soccer ball, so he would make balls out of blown-up condoms. Out of millions of Haitian children, he was one of 25 selected to play on the national youth team at 14. Now he wants to do something similar for the Port-au-Prince children living in tents.
"My distractions were my soccer and my education," Pierre-Louis said. "Imagine seeing someone get smashed in the earthquake. How do you take that as a kid?"
Pierre-Louis, 25, was brought back to his home country for the first time since the earthquake by an organization called OneHope, a ministry that tells Bible stories to children through booklets and movies. The ministry recently sent a small group from their Florida headquarters to lead the Port-au-Prince soccer clinics, with the intention that Haitian leaders would continue the clinics throughout the summer.
The situation in Haiti remains daunting. Approximately $10 billion worth of aid has been pledged to Haiti, but only 2 percent has been delivered, according to reports. Pierre-Louis doesn't want to talk about the government. He is generally a happy fellow, but talking about politics upsets him.
Indeed, many Haitians have remained fixed to television sets during the World Cup. If you listen to what people are saying in Creole, Pierre-Louis tells me, they are probably arguing over which is the better team: Brazil or Argentina.
"What would [children] do without a soccer ball all day?" he said. "That's when they sit by themselves or fight with other kids. It reminds them of being hungry or of the sister they lost in the earthquake."
Bringing soccer to the tents
When the OneHope team drove into a tent city one Saturday with two trucks, Haitians gathered around quickly, some of the children patting their stomachs and asking questions in Creole. Smells of sewage filled the air as wild pigs and goats mingled in piles of trash near the dirt field. The children live in tents. Some don't own shoes. Many of them lost family members in the earthquake.
The children tended to gather around anyone with white skin. Two girls pointed at me and said something about "blanc." A Haitian told me that they were saying, "Look at the white girl." Later, one of the little boys began singing the chorus to Justin Bieber's "Baby" and then asked me if I have a boyfriend. I told him that I'm married.
The children moved quickly towards Pierre-Louis, who sported his yellow and blue jersey from his season with the Columbus Crew professional team in Ohio. When he explains he is there to play soccer with them, some of the children run to get socks and athletic shoes. But many wear plastic sandals or run in bare feet. One little boy wore a pair of women's black heels. Most of the girls stand on the sidelines and watch.
Pierre-Louis played with between 100 and 200 children for about an hour, giving them tips along the way. He then gathered the children and gave his testimony, explaining how he was once like them and how they, too, could have success with God's help.