Letters to the Editor

Soccer gear gathered by ‘Project Replay’ for Africa had long journey

By Mike Wandell

Special to the Reporter

When the Wandell family, Marcus, Grace, and parents Linda and Mike and friend Sean Sweeney traveled to South Africa for the 2010 soccer World Cup, we saw kids playing with soccer balls made from plastic sacks.

We committed to try to help a bit in our own way so upon our return, we launched “Project Replay,” to collect soccer balls, pumps and needles to send to the kids of South Africa. With the generous support of the Mercer Island Albertson’s and a poster designed by Marcus we started collecting new and nearly new balls.

Balls just “dribbled in” until Jonah Hyman saw the poster and asked his friends to bring balls for his eighth birthday party. Other big-hearted kids followed suit and soon we had 112 new and nearly new balls, plus needles and pumps we added.  We thought we had made our goal.

But we had a long way to go; even though it was a humanitarian effort, the best shipping price we could find was nearly two thousand dollars.  That’s when a friend of Marcus in San Diego, Jared Criscuolo, stepped in and together with Carly Moskowitz organized a fundraiser at a San Diego bar called Jimmy Loves, to raise $1,000, enough to pay the freight for his nonprofit, Below the Surface, to ship them to South Africa. This was the second time we thought we made our goal.  But once again our hopes were dashed.

Contrary to our freight invoice, the heartless freight forwarder in South Africa (Thomhuizen Freight Cc) held our balls ransom for nine months until we finally paid up —again.

Then finally, about two months ago, Ian Nowak a friend we met while touring his compassionate “big cat” sanctuary (http://nsele-reserve.co.za/), started distributing the balls. The first went to kids from Mokolo Primary School, situated in a very poor settlement in the area surrounding Vaalwater. Ian reported that all sport and extra-curricular activities at the school are 100 percent reliant on donations.

Even so, the U-13 team at the Mokolo school was second in a regional tournament, without one kid wearing soccer boots.  Ian told us a local company helped them with uniforms, but the balls were exactly what they really needed and he sent us this link so we could share in their happiness.

For earlier stories on Project Relay, click here and here.


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