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Here is an amazing update from one of our partners in Rwanda Kefa Project:

balanced ball

Over the course of my trip in Rwanda last December I got to know a group of street kids that lived next to our office. It started one night walking home from buying water. A small boy saw me, dropped what he was carrying, and chased after me asking for money. This is common and I am used to saying no at this point. But for whatever reason he reminded me exactly of a boy in our boarding soccer academy that we run for formerly homeless kids and so I gave him a small coin. This became a ritual every few nights, as more and more boys would join him. Sometimes he would ask for money – sometimes he would just say hi.

Finally one night I asked him his name. It was nearly identical to the boy that he reminded me of. It shook me deeply in a way I cannot really describe.

The next morning we had a planned Rwandan staff meeting to discuss if we wanted to add more kids into our academy after the graduation. We needed to see how everyone was doing – how burned out people were. It had not always been an easy journey to graduation. Every one of them said yes. I was the only hesitant one.

But I said, “Look you guys want this. There is a group of street kids that live right outside of our office. Why don’t we have our academy graduates train with them for a while as an act of giving back what they have been given, while we figure things out.”

They all agreed with a plan of slowly getting to know the boys and seeing if we could eventually reconcile them back into their families. That night we met with the boys on the street and introduced the idea. They were super enthusiastic. Over the next day we would agree with them on a plan of how they could train with our graduates and what we would provide.

At the time they were supposed to come for training, only one boy showed up. “Only one?” I asked. We learned the police had come and done a raid that night picking up boys for being on the streets. They got six we were told.

Soon three more boys that we thought were in custody came for training. “We escaped,” they said. Finally two more boys came. Three remained missing and we feared they had been caught. “Do you still want to train?” “Yes that is why we came,” so matter-of-fact.

As we got ready to go to the field, one of the boys who had been caught showed up. Embraced by his brothers, he quickly began to tell a terrible story. He and two others had been put in an adult holding cell the night before. He had escaped. The other two were still there. “I am never leaving this office, unless you physically remove me.” He collapsed and fell asleep on our plastic chairs.

The rest of the boys refused to leave him. As an organization that works with street kids, we don’t exactly physically remove them from where they are sleeping. We notified the local government officials we would have boys sleeping at our office at night. Our Rwandan education director, a lawyer, laid his court robe (much like a judge’s rob) across a few of the boys to sleep.

The next day we met with the boys. As a staff we faced a dilemma. We didn’t have funding to take them in, we didn’t know their backstories, and an office wasn’t a great place for a kid to sleep. We finally agreed to tell the boys that they needed to go back to their homes, come to training every day, and they would be provided food as we tried to sort out what was going on.

They sat stone-faced as we delivered the news. Each boy began to describe reasons he could not go home. Things that made family reconciliation not possible. “So you are the boss,” their leader said. “Are we sleeping here or on the streets tonight?”

We walked back into our offices. All of us. Rwandans and Americans. We just stared at our wall. No one spoke.

***

A miracle. A donor willing to pay for the boys to live at our academy for three months, while we try to find them sponsors. Amazing. But, but, but.

We needed to check to see if their stories were true. MJ and I were flying home in four days. Deep breaths.

All of our Rwandan staff and partners dove in. We drove on bumpy dirt roads for hours. Tracking down families. Finding some. Others didn’t really want to be found. All of the kids’ stories began to be confirmed. Parent permission would be granted for the boys to join us.

So we sat down with each of our dedicated coaches. They, after all, were also working with vulnerable kids at their training sites. We shared our story, but no solutions. “What can we do?” “They have to go to academy,” came the reply. We asked who agreed. Every hand raised up.

We then sat down with the boys. “We want to invite you to come to our soccer academy. But you need to know once you enter the academy, you are an academy athlete and that comes with responsibility. Academy athletes must go to school, train hard, wake up for prayer, not use drugs, respect coaches, and not fight.” Every boy enthusiastically agreed.

Okay. Then we need to buy beds today. And so our staff jumped once again into action.

We were able to bring the new boys into the academy two hours before MJ and I left for the airport. The new boys arrived to the cheering of our older athletes. ‘Welcome To Kefa Academy!’

The balls that we used initially for the boys to come and play with us were from the grant money received from Ball Project. The balls that they play with every day now at the academy are also from Ball Project. Many of the boys are top in their class in school and are loving life at the academy. We could not have done this without you helping us to have these soccer balls so that the kids could train and pursue what they love.

on the field

Help children play

“Give me a ball and I’ll have a thousand kids chasing after it.” –Solomon, Kenya

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