Local youth teams donate soccer balls to kids in Haiti

Published in The Westborough News, November 19, 2009trish-in-haiti

WESTBOROUGH – Westborough residents Trish Reske and Tom Slicklen visited the Caribbean nation of Haiti earlier this month with a precious cargo: Soccer balls.

And if you don’t think soccer balls would mean much in a country beset by widespread poverty, Reske would tell you otherwise.

“Kids there will bunch together plastic bags and play soccer with that,” she said. “To get a real soccer ball – it’s like Christmas.”

Reske was in Haiti from Nov. 8 to 14 as part of a five-person group led by Slicklen, who is an area director for World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization.

“I’ve been involved in a number of efforts with World Vision,” she said. “I really just wanted to go and see firsthand what it was really like … to see how World Vision works.”

The trip also afforded Reske an opportunity to deliver a gift on behalf of the Westborough U8 and U14 soccer teams. Two of her sons play on the teams and her husband, Dave, coaches the U8 squad.

“We asked what kind of things would be good to bring for the kids (in Haiti),” she said. “Soccer balls were one of the first things mentioned.”

Each team donated five balls, as well as pumps and needles, in case the balls became deflated.

Slicklen, who is Reske’s neighbor, has traveled around the world for his work with World Vision. But for Reske, who had never been on a mission trip, Haiti was “eye opening.”

The group traveled to the country’s rural Central Plateau, “one of the poorest areas in Haiti,” Reske said. Stopping in towns such as Hinche and Port-au-Prince, they observed how World Vision, which commits to a town for 15 years, is working to improve health, education and agricultural practices of the local people.

“I was so impressed,” said Reske. “When … you see a well built next to a school, you see the difference it makes in people’s lives.”

“(Haiti) is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” Slicklen added. “And it’s right in our backyard. People are looking for hope. But they need a lot of support.”

Currently bogged down by unstable government, high unemployment and rampant deforestation, Slicklen said the Haitians are in dire need of sustainable development. World Vision, with close to 900 staffers in the country, is the largest non-government-backed organization in Haiti, he said, and is working to build schools, health clinics and other infrastructure in the poorest areas.

But even something as small as a soccer ball can be a cherished gift to the children there, as Reske found out. Coordinating their efforts with local village leaders, she and the group gave the balls away one at a time along their itinerary.

“It was really wonderful,” she said. The kids’ reactions were “just pure delight – their faces would light up.”

“Like magic,” she said, the soccer balls drew children from all around wherever they were.

“These kids have next to nothing, but soccer is something that we share,” Reske said. “It’s one country of kids connecting with another.”

Back home in Westborough, the youth soccer players were “really excited” to be able to help out their fellow footballers in Haiti, Reske added – so much so that the teams hope to make the donation an annual occasion.

Meanwhile, Slicklen said the rest of Haiti’s challenges will likely take much longer to solve.

“It’s not impossible,” he said. “But they’re going to need a lot of people working together.”

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