Hope comes in the shape of a soccer ball for one impoverished, small African nation.
Recognizing this, a compassionate teacher and her gracious students at Holy Family Catholic School made the long-distance connection.
Katie Dempsey’s seventh-graders raised about $1,000 from two on-campus springtime soccer camps to purchase soccer balls and water-carrying products for the communities of Burundi – a landlocked nation in Eastern Africa, one of the five poorest countries in the world.
Separated by nearly 9,000 miles, Auburn and Burundi came closer together when Dempsey made the summer trip to Africa to deliver the goods.
“They actually were praying for soccer balls,” Dempsey said of visiting the villages from mid-June to mid-August. “They were unbelievably excited. Their faces lit up.”
It was a mission trip, an outreach opportunity for Dempsey’s enterprising kids to complete a service project, part of their religion grade.
Dempsey (pictured left) toiled but was able to secure and distribute a dozen soccer balls in the country, at a cost of 25,000 Burundi Francs apiece, or about 17 U.S. dollars. There are no sporting goods outlets there, she said, maybe a fabric store with a few soccer balls tucked away on a shelf.
“I had more than one person say to me, ‘For the amount of money you just paid for the ball, we could pay for a goat,'” Dempsey said.
“The rate of poverty is horrendous and the inflation there, between last summer and his summer, was significant,” she added. “But even with the level of poverty, the general level of happiness of the people there was quite interesting to see. It’s interesting to see how content they are, how spiritual so many of the people are.”
Dempsey used the remaining money to buy tanks and other containers for villagers to use to fill with water and transport to their communities, especially those with elderly people. She also donated money to help finance corrective surgery for a child afflicted with tuberculosis.
“I wanted to make sure the money was all spent and spent well and spent with (my students’) blessings,” Dempsey said.
It was a rewarding, moving experience for Dempsey, who had passed that way before. She had visited Burundi in the summer of 2011 – part of a volunteer mission trip – and come back with stories about kids playing with soccer ball made from garbage bags. She described what she had seen to her students, and the soccer fanatics in her class wanted to help.
Students hosted soccer camps for youngsters last spring to raise money. Dempsey supervised as her students organized the drills, scheduled and instructed the camps. More than 80 kids participated in the two camps.
Mission accomplished, Dempsey returned from Africa and shared her experience with the class in a photo-filled PowerPoint show.
“They were excited. They said they would do it again,” Dempsey said of her students’ reaction.
Connected globally, Holy Family seventh-graders might do another fundraising project to help another country next summer.
Dempsey said her students feel an obligation to help others. She is more than willing to show the way.
“It’s real important for them to get an understanding that we’re all interconnected, we’re all God’s children,” she said. “There really is no difference fundamentally between myself and somebody in Zimbabwe, in Peru or wherever.
“It’s that ability to get them actually connected, by them raising the money, distributing it, even though they can’t come with me,” she said. “For me to bring the information, the pictures and stories back, is (helpful to them). And having them buy into all of that is important.”
COURTESY PHOTO BELOW: Children in Burundi enjoy the gift of a new soccer ball, courtesy of students from Holy Family Catholic School.