From New Jersey to Peace in Afghanistan

It’s hard to believe it was over a year ago when high school player Taylor Von Zile from Pine Beach, New Jersey first contacted me. There are stories taking place every day, every week and every month of donations, distributions and people sharing the beautiful game. This keeps the pulse of Peace Passers in rhythm. The part that keeps you on your toes is you never know when a story is going to come to full fruition and re-appear for a little show & tell.

In March of 2010 Taylor wrote to let us know she had attended the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy June 2008 and June 2009. This soccer leadership academy focuses half the program on soccer skills and the other time on developing leadership skills and tools to help give back to the community through volunteerism and community service. Taylor used this experience as an opportunity to conduct a community service project at several of the Toms River Schools and with Toms Rivers Soccer Association. She collected used sneakers and soccer cleats. The sneakers went to Nike’s “Reuse-a-Shoe” program and the cleats were collected for Peace Passers. Taylor worked diligently on her collection updating me along the way with how many cleats were coming in. She even got to meet Mia Hamm!

afghanistan soccer donations

April 2010 I received an email from Mr. Albert Martinez stationed at ISAF in Kabul, Afghanistan.  At that time he was located at a NATO base with military from countries all over the world, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, and the U.S. Albert wrote to Peace Passers explaining “There’s a soccer field right outside of camp that we play soccer on every Friday.  While we are out there, kids from the nearby neighborhoods show up to play. All of the kids that show up have great spirit and love the game of soccer. Unfortunately none of them have shoes and if they do have shoes they are torn to pieces held together by a single thread. If there is anything that can be done for those kids I’m sure that they would really appreciate it.  Not only would they appreciate the gesture but by showing them that we care would show the people here of Afghanistan that we are here to help them out, not to destroy their country.  Please let me know if there’s anything that your organization can do for us.”

If you know Peace Passers then you may have a hunch where this story is heading. Sitting at my desk in Charlotte, NC receiving the email I felt honored to read Albert’s note, but also knew it would take special planning to serve this request. Peace Passers does not have the funding to ship gear out for every request that comes in. In fact most gear is hand-carried by groups of volunteers, so a shipment to Afghanistan was a new challenge. We receive scores of requests for gear from people doing great work in many different countries and if there were a magic wand it sure would be nice to zap gear there, everywhere. A fancy idea but not reality. What we do have the ability to do is match up people who have collected equipment with those who can put it back into play.

By connecting Taylor’s collection to Albert’s request we had a match made in Peace Passers heaven. Taylor’s project collected 135 pairs of cleats, as well as shin guards and soccer balls. The logistical barrier was raising the funds to be able to ship all of the gear. Taylor graciously offered to raise $ on her own as well as contributions from her parents and friends. Because it was shipping to a military base we were certain that the gear would arrive in a safe manner and be received by Albert himself. On May 28, 2010 Taylor shipped out 9 boxes of soccer gear, Peace Passers stickers and 2 kodak disposable cameras with a prepaid envelope. Peace was on its way to Afghanistan.

Within the next 2 weeks we confirmed with Albert that the gear had arrived. After one of the days using the gear with the kids he wrote to say “It was an awesome experience to see the kids happy and seeing them enjoy having the shoes on.  We played soccer that day and I’ve never seen the kids that happy.  I want to thank the two of you for what ya’ll have done in a time like this.  It was good to have the feeling in forgetting where I was at, so thank you!”

Albert’s response to Taylor’s collection drive “These kids have big hearts and like any kid all they want to do is play and have fun. Believe me your devotion and commitment towards raising soccer cleats will make a difference in the world, be proud of yourself.”

Last summer that was the story. This summer 2011 the postman made a special delivery for Taylor. The pictures you see are taken from the disposable camera sent in the boxes of equipment. Taylor shared the pictures just last week bringing it back full circle. This act of giving was carried across the ocean to an area where war and violence are the norm, and resulted in a sense of freedom and joyfulness for the kids and even for our own U.S. military. No matter your skin color, language or your country of origin, we were all kids once. Soccer is our peace playground. Thank you to Taylor and the teams in New Jersey and to Albert for going above and beyond the call of duty. Taylor keeps it simple for us by saying “Keep smiling and playing soccer.”

Link to pictures: