By Hideto Shimizu
We arrived in Lalibera after a full day's travel to hold a three-day football school and the Vegalta Cup.
Ethiopia is a poor country. In Lalibera, children are often seen kicking the football with bare feet, or using makeshift balls made of bundled-up socks. They don't wear uniforms or practice gear; their clothes are tattered and patched.
|"[One player] didn't have shoes of his own, so he'd borrowed a mismatched from others in order to participate"|
Football is wildly popular in the country, but there are few children who have a ball, shoes, and a uniform. In the first Vegalta Cup, held in 2011, one player wore different shoes on each foot. He didn't have shoes of his own, so he'd borrowed a mismatched from others in order to participate. The prize for scoring the most goals in the tournament was to be a new pair of spikes, but he was unfortunately unable to reach the summit.
How happy would the children of Lalibera, who enjoy football this much, be if we could give them proper shoes and balls to play with? To find out, we came to Lalibera with as much equipment as we could carry.
Vegalta Academy director Kazunori Inoue and youth coach Hideaki Takahashi packed large bags with balls, uniforms, and practice gear. Futaro Forest Fund representative Kaori Niizuma, who helped planned this trip, brought clothes collected from children in her home-town of Soma in Fukushima Prefecture. Some of the uniforms bore the name of the town on the chest.
|"Rather than get that money from one sponsor, more people will learn about our afforestation project if we get $10 each from 3,000 people"
- Kaori Niizuma, Futaro Forest Fund
"If we need $30,000," Niizuma explained, "Rather than get that money from one sponsor, more people will learn about our afforestation project if we get $10 each from 3,000 people."
With this way of thinking, the Vegalta Cup is held through not only our efforts, but those of every Japanese football fan who has contributed. The Futaro Forest Fund sells goods from Ethiopia at Vegalta Sendai home games once per month, with the proceeds going to re-growing the area's forests. But it's the words of support from Vegalta supporters that give Niizuma strength.
Finally, we were joined by Tsun of the Chonmage Corps, a group of Japanese national team supporters known for their global travel. At a New Year's party of dedicated football fans, he raised money to buy several pairs of spikes.
|"Even if Tsun is one day unable to participate in this project, there will hopefully be someone to accept his baton"|
Like Niizuma, Tsun has also considered how to involve as many people as possible, not just in the present but in the future as well. If all it took was donating materials or money, he notes, these volunteer activities would conclude quickly, but if the project brings in many participants, it will continue for a third, fourth, and fifth time. Even if Tsun is one day unable to participate in this project, there will hopefully be someone to accept his baton.
The five of us travelled together; Emirates Airways limited us each to 30 kilograms of luggage, allowing us to bring 150 kilograms in total. We reduced our own supplies as much as possible to allow for more equipment to be carried; though some of our bags were overweight we managed to carry the rest onto the plane. Though we suffered difficulties that I can't write about on the way, we made it to Lalibera with all of our cargo intact.
Goal.com Japan Chief Editor Hideto Shimizu has published the books “100 Ways to Enjoy Watching Football," "100 Practice Methods for Defenders and Goalkeepers," and "120 Set Piece Tactics," among others. He can be reached on Twitter at @kaizokuhide. Read Part 1 of Seeds of Hope here.