Five years ago, 10-year-old Ethan King traveled to Mozambique, Africa, with his father. Dad repairs non-functioning water wells in impoverished African villages, so when he went to rural Mozambique in 2009 Ethan tagged along.
To help pass the time while his dad worked, Ethan would kick around a soccer ball that he brought with him. The local kids took notice of the ball. They loved soccer, but Ethan discovered they played with makeshift balls made of trash, plastic bags and twine.
Ethan shared his ball with the other kids and invited them to play. Five kids joined at first, then 50. And when Ethan saw how thrilled they were by the sight of a real soccer ball, a life-changing idea was born.
Now 15, Ethan is the founder of Charity Ball, an organization he began in 2010 that donates new soccer balls to kids in developing nations. When someone donates $25, a child in a developing country is hand-delivered his or her own brand-new, quality soccer balls.
A Game-Changing Charity
It’s a modest idea, but the gains are immeasurable. Many people around the world lack the money and access to real soccer balls. So like the children in Mozambique, kids create their own footballs out of whatever they can find. But with a well-made, regulation-size soccer ball, everything can change. Kids are given a better understanding of teamwork, the chance at a healthier life, and the opportunity to share a passion for soccer with millions of people and hope. And the lessons they learn on the pitch carry into their everyday lives.
“When kids in these tough situations have the ball at their feet, they can be in the moment,” Ethan says. “They can forget about living in poverty or that they probably haven’t eaten in a while.”
Ethan says people all over the share the same feelings about the game, and when he got back to the United States he was soon proven right.
Brian Dunseth, a former American soccer pro who now commentates Major League Soccer matches, was immediately impressed by the precocious teen. He said it still amazes him to see how much joy a single soccer ball can bring to people, and he would like to see Ethan and Charity Ball supported by players and leagues around the world.
“Ethan’s in unchartered territory,” Dunseth says. “He’s providing ideal opportunities that can have game-changing effects. And if social media is utilized the right way, Charity Ball can grow into something special.”
After starting Charity Ball, Ethan’s email began filling up with similar sentiments. But one in particular caught his attention. A man named Neven wanted to get involved in Ethan’s organization. And unlike many others who wanted to know more, he told Ethan he could to Google him.
“I thought, ‘Who responds with you can Google me?’” Ethan laughs. “It didn’t occur to me that’s who he was because he just said Neven.”
Neven turned out to be Serbian professional Neven Subotić – the star player whom Ethan had seen play on television numerous times and even chosen to play with in the FIFA videogame. Neven had been looking for an organization to partner with and stumbled upon Charity Ball.
“It was great to see how involved and passionate Ethan was,” Neven says. “He is so young that he still had a unique creativity he uses in achieving his goal of hand delivering as many soccer balls as possible.”
The twosome brainstormed together and decided to host a tournament for kids in Mozambique. Within a week, Neven had convinced Adidas to donate 500 balls and uniforms for the 350 kids that had signed up for the PLAY [well] Cup.
A More Beautiful Game
But Charity Ball’s impact has been more widespread than a single tournament. In four short years, the organization has donated 4,000 new soccer balls in developing countries around the world. And it has given opportunities to thousands of kids who might otherwise not have them.
When kids get a new soccer ball, they can feel like professionals — a wonderful feeling that can bring them closer toward the dream of becoming a pro, Neven said. Many professional players, including world-famous superstar Pelé, began by playing with makeshift soccer balls. So Neven and Ethan hope to see the kids they’re helping follow a similar path.
Charity Ball is on the right track, too. Ethan has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 for this year because the teen wants to do “big things.” The excitement of the World Cup should help him reach that milestone, but he draws daily inspiration from his experience on that first trip to Mozambique.
“All anyone needs is a ball and some empty space,” Ethan says. Thanks to him, a lot more kids have their ball — and the game has become a lot more beautiful.
Visit the Charity Ball website for more information about the organization and how you can help Ethan donate soccer balls to kids around the world!
Photo: Ian Allen