For Suzanne Fortune, it all began with a simple request for shoes.
Challenged by a friend who was doing humanitarian work with Ugandan children, Fortune knew just where she could find shoes. Raising three soccer-playing sons, she figured people in the soccer community could help. So she bought a ticket to Africa and alerted her contacts about what she was doing. When departure time arrived, Fortune found herself with 20 bags of gear to accompany her to Africa.
And so, Soccer2Unite, a non-profit geared toward enriching underprivileged children’s lives through soccer, was born.
“Soccer is a vehicle. It’s a way of getting a message through. It’s fun, it’s inspiring and you learn a lot about life on the soccer field. It’s a great physical activity and it’s a world sport,” she said.
Fortune said she received soccer gear donations from Lake Washington High School, Northwest Nationals Soccer Club and the Mercer Island soccer community.
“Mercer Island gave me a bunch of stuff,” she said. “Brand new hoodies, brand new Adidas jerseys, brand new soccer balls, Mercer Island t-shirts. We gave away a lot of gear, but we still have gear in storage.”
In her travels, Fortune visited the Ugandan cites of Kabale and Kampala, working with underprivileged children at an orphanage and different schools. Children were fitted for uniforms, shoes and shin guards.
“You can only imagine the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get these, it’s magical,” said Fortune.
Fortune said the overriding story from the trip was talking with the children and hearing them say they wanted to go to a university so they could become something, be it a lawyer or doctor or social worker, and come back to help their people.
“In Africa, you have to pay fees to go to school. The only ones that can go are the ones who can afford to pay,” she said. “I was very inspired so I came back and figured out how I’d make this work. I want to help underprivileged children who are orphans become educated because those are the ones who want to come back and help.”
Fortune said her grand plan involves helping bring clean water, sanitation and education to the places she visited. She is currently working with the board of directors at Soccer2Unite on developing a program and finding partners who can help realize that goal.
In 2015, Fortune is hoping to go back to Africa three or four more times. She’s working to continue partnerships with other local soccer communities. And she knows firsthand that a little can go a long way.
“What we have, we all take for granted. We don’t understand that just a smile can change a person’s life.”
For more information on Soccer2Unite or to make a contribution, visit http://soccer2unite.org.