Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Shall Return

Today’s blog is brought to you in dirty brown. Which pretty much happily sums up the clothes in my suitcase.

Two million miles on United and I’m about to fly out of Nairobi on KENYA AIRWAYS??? Huh?? Back to Ahhhmereeecaa? (Isn’t that how Eddie Murphy pronounced it in Coming to America?)

As we lift off I think back to the first time Frank talked to me about what would later become “Soccer Saves”. How could one conversation eight years ago lead to this????? It all started at Northwest Soccer Camp - with his kids - he dragged me aside and threatened me. He dared to suggest that our mission (“Kids may forget what you say and even what you do; but they will never forget how you made them feel!”) that drove us to provide great soccer and special things about life for some 70,000 kids over the years possibly, just possibly, could be made available to a couple million or more disadvantaged kids. In Africa! And other developing countries.

My response: “You have my attention!!” So years later here we are in the heart of Africa!

Places like Adama, Ethiopia – arguably one of the poorest spots on earth!! And Nairobi – a place I always associated with skinny, world-class marathon wizards named Kip Keino (another GREAT name).

So how to crank out a summary blog instead of a 47 page position paper?

First, it’s no longer how “you made them feel”! It’s how you fixed their teeth. How you kill mosquitoes the size of mopeds whose deadly sting - that kills 3,000 precious persons - DAILY - have to be silenced! It’s how you cuddle smelly, sweaty, greasy, dirty, wide-eyed, very special, very lovable, clinging children of the universe long enough to help the boys keep their ‘thang’ in their pants and the girls to stay away from the HIV/AIDS truck stops long enough to discover there might be a ‘higher’ cleaner, healthier road for them to travel. I mean, where the hell is M. Scott Peck when we need him?

Screw “life is difficult”. Here, in these teeming caldrons of despair, disease, impossibility, filth, disease and hopelessness there is a beach full of Starfish groaning for a single fling to restoration. A glimmer of hope. An act that can make a difference. Here the teeming hordes seeking help – and a morsel of bread – need to live just one more day long enough for the Uncle Nubbys and Franks (and Sarahs, Susies, Rachels, Billys, Bobbys and Matties) of the world to stop what they’re doing long enough to “Give them a shot!”
But I digress!

What the final day in Nairobi was all about can be expressed in an acronym: MYSA!!! That’s not Mukilteo Youth Soccer Association; its the Mathare Youth Sports Association! A soccer league in the middle of the biggest slum in Nairobi????

We drive in and around and in and around potholes the size of craters on the moon. Inside the MYSA complex is a brick laid square bordered by neatly arranged buildings giving the illusion of an English tudor mansion. There’s a fitness center with professional trainers and all the amenities one might find in a 24 Hour Fitness Center anywhere.

Beyond the two story ‘central office’ building is a brick red, but perfectly level, soccer field not unlike what one might find in professional clubs in Brazil. Inside are pleasant offices and soda machines and trophy cases. And bookshelves with books and binders and clean, neat stacks of papers filed for future reference. Computers and telephones and sharp looking people with clean shirts and warm, cheerful smiles.

And, Peter K, the CEO and visionary of this empire for all things good. He is a short, well-built, serene, soft-spoken - but very intelligent man - of about 40 something. He quietly articulates how MYSA began – in 1987 and grew, from a vision and a passion to help kids, to an army of 18,000 boys and girls who are dispersed orderly, if not evenly, in 16 zones throughout one of the largest slum areas of Nairobi. There are over 1,000 teams that compete weekly, most of whom play in their bare feet on those brick-red dusty fields. But, unlike the stone, glass strewn hazard pitches of Ethiopia, these are manicured…raked and level and void of sharp objects. That’s because MYSA isn’t just a futbol league; it’s a laboratory of life’s higher aims. Teams get the usual points for wins and draws but the “secret sauce” are the bonus points teams and players get for doing good – cleaning up the slums, helping run the league (coaching, refereeing, washing jerseys, etc. and teaching healthy lifestyle lessons to the younger players). Members outline a neighborhood to be ‘swept’ and then in teams, pitch in with the precision and organization of army ants. Rubber/plastic bags are provided and the city (village?) provides a truck and the revitalization begins. In addition to this kind of ‘home improvement’ they also tackle drainage and sewage problems to help restore some semblance of sanitation in areas where disease and squalor are rampant. On the soccer side the program has developed to the point whereby they even enter teams in some of the more well known international tournaments such as the Dania Cup and Norway tournaments where they have won the gold numerous times.

The end result? Measurable results. Changed lives. Reduced incidence of disease and death. And hope! Hope for a different kind of future. Amazing work by amazing people.

This trip was about learning and validating the vision. So what did we learn – other than the obvious eye-opening/popping, life-changing pictures of what 90% of the world’s teenagers face every day of their threatened lives?

Here, in no particular order are the early returns:

· Save the Children, with their Sport for Life curriculum and other programming, is doing an amazing job of reaching OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) – 5 million plussss in Ethiopia alone.

· Organizations like MYSA, Grassroots Soccer and others are making a difference. We read about it, we saw it, we believe it.

· Soccer Saves is the missing piece that, as Frank says, is the “sizzle” that instantly lures these kids in and, once in, we CAN get the message to them about choosing healthy lifestyles, better decision making, HIV/AIDS education, gender equity (respect and proper love) and formulae for healthier reproductive behaviors.

· We need to mobilize the soccer players of America – at all levels: High school, clubs, college and professional to consolidate the gains that Save the Children is making.

· Thanks to the growing legions of Soccer Saves supporters – Charlotte, the Soccer Saves team, the Robins, Sounders FC organization and former players and friends.

· And, special thanks to the owner and ‘King’ of Seattle’s El Capitan Apartments, Alvin “Bubba” Hendricks, an irascible, wonderful, one-of-a-kind man of passion, love and caring who, along with his ever so elegant , wonderful and loving wife Narci - and very dedicated son Manny - made this initial venture possible. Without their very generous capacity building grant, this eye opening, strategy validating, program enhancing journey, would not be possible.

Nine hours, 47 minutes in a packed coach class cabin. It was one of the more delightful, elegant rides I have ever had. Can’t wait to return.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I once keynoted a huge downtown Seattle banking and big-bucks finance deal – without really knowing what the theme was but the banker that introduced me finished with: “This is the only guy I have ever met that believes 10,000 words are better than one picture!” So what’s that have to do with today’s message?! I’ll tell you what?! One of our board members – whose name I desperately would love to reveal - said she loves the blogs but thinks they could be more bullet point and less the ’10,047 words! I agree so today’s goal is: Less is more! (Ha! Fat chance!)

The theme today is: Contrasts!

As I leave Addis Ababababababaaaaa…(which, by the way, is the first bullet about ‘contrasts’…) the overwhelming thought I take with me to Bole Airport is CONTRASTS! This city and the entire country is one of contrasts! Addis Ababa! The city filled with low-hanging clouds of diesel fumes belched from gazillions of vehicle; ingested every second by 3,627,934 people means ‘New Flower’!!

Contrasts? How can a flower grow let alone be called new when the surface that serves as the womb for growth is nothing but gravel and dirt - as far as the eye can see? It is a city where the very rich live next to the very poor. It’s the capital city of Ethiopia as well as the African Union…often called the “African Capital”. And, not only Africa, but most of the planet considers it of utmost significance due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance to the entire continent. It’s located in the foothills of the Entoto Mountains and at 7,726 feet above sea level is the third highest capital in the world and the largest city in a landlocked country. Another contrast: Every inch of the city appears to be rock-strewn, dirty, barren and covered with people, animals, taxis and vehicles of every size and description. And yet, because of an ambitious campaign to plant Eucalyptus trees – imported from Australia (when the city was at risk due to a shortage of firewood in the early 1900s) - there exists a greenbelt of forests and semi-subsistence cultivated land surrounding the city. It’s a mountain city but the contrast seems to be that while fascinating and beautiful, it seems so complex and problematic.

Contrasts? Beautiful, happy people but the scent of poverty hangs like dense mosquito netting over every inch traveled. Carefree, slow-moving people everywhere seemingly oblivious to the border wars with Eritrea and Somalia from which centers comes a steady stream of refugees whom Ethiopia embraces but cannot support. Slums…in some cases springing up at the rate of 200 people per acre. The center of the African Union but hundreds of thousands – maybe in the millions –living in ramshackle houses erected with rusty tin and canvas without regard to sanitation or drainage. And yet, they’re a happy people. And proud! The last mental snapshot I carried aboard Ethiopian Airlines to Nairobi was a man in a ragged, dusty, misshapen and mismatching suit jacket -getting a shoeshine! Why? Three steps from the ramshackle crate -serving as a footstool - the swirling dust will recoat his shoes with thin layers of grey silt. But his pride cannot be stained nor stunted! Like Al Pacino said about Charlie in “Scent of a Woman” “There’s no prosthetic for an amputated spirit!” There’s no amount of despair or adversity that can take from these beautiful people their quick and easy smiles, their joyful loving spirits, their strong and proud hearts. But the fact remains the thrift of their lives occurs in a framework of despair. That alone compels us to reach out, touch, share, care and give…all clear contrasts to what they have known.

Kudos to Save the Children

At some point we would like to extend what we do and help humanitarian organizations all over the world enhance their programs with the world’s greatest game – FUUUUUTBOL!!!!!! But this thank you goes out to a great partner, Save the Children. World class does not begin to describe.

We elected to approach Save the Children first because, as my partner Frank says, they have a big presence in Africa, they target the teenagers we want to reach and they are very professional about measuring their work.

This shot was taken with the Save the Children leadership team in Ethiopia – thanks to Dennis, Margaret (an amazingly thoughtful woman from Edmonds, now living in Addis ABBBBBABBBBA), Marc, Yeshi and others. And special thanks to the Westport gang – especially big Sam, the lad from Liverpool who never could stop smiling and worked tirelessly to help us start this journey, Brad, Charlie, Carolyn, Anne-Marie and a man that helped start it all with the right introductions, Ed GH.

Toasting all of you with a semi-cold St. George this evening.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Coaching Fields of Ethiopia (more pics)

Incredibly busy putting a wrapper around the first training pilot. Pictures are the way to go again.

Focus today is on training the coaches around talking to OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) about decision making -- drugs, sex and pressures from all over.

With over 5 MILLLLLLLION OVCs in a country with 80MM people, this is big time stuff.

More pics from the day to come ...... The Kodak Instamatic is overheating with images


Special Thanks to Sounders FC

Can't say enough about the support we have received from Seattle Sounders FC. Kevin, Mike, Gary, Frank Mac, Sandy, Chuck, the ownership group and the whole organization. A first class team in every sense of the word. These pics are for you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Great Day in Adama

Today’s missive will be somewhat long but that’s only because we are in sensory overload (that’s what Frank calls it). Man o man!! Here goes.

So remember all those stories about power outages, no running water, malaria and all the other goodies waiting for the Parade of Pampered to developing countries? They’re TRUE!! Last night the first of the power outages began while I finally gave in to sleep under mosquito netting that didn’t fit. And no fans – in all of Adama. I awoke in a pool of my own sweat and groveled my way to the bathroom with visions of showering my body! AHA!!! No such luck. NO water! The construction guys next door burst a water pipe so I showered with a bottle of warm seltzer water and brushed my teeth without rinsing! Returning after a full day of dust, more sweat and greasy mosquito repellent on my body guess what? Correct! Still no water. But the lights finally came back on. And the mosquitoes? Hovering and buzzing my neck and other bare spots like planes landing at O’Hare Field (an average of one every 47 seconds! I swear that one of them was circling for at least an hour waiting to catch some of the Nubber’s precious blood supply)

Today is Day Three of the nine that we are spending with the Save the Children team who managed to lure to a six-day meeting - 34 coaches and peer educators. Very caring people – every one of them -- who simply want to help the kids that are the future of Ethiopia.

Let’s get serious here for a moment. The goal is to give the coaches the tools so that they can pass on ways for these kids to deal with the very real issues they face every day. You can’t just tell these kids “abstain” or “use condoms” or “make better choices” , in a one day classroom setting. You have to create a culture of great decision making, dealing with outside pressures and self confidence. When I look at the agenda, I smile because it’s stuff that makes sense – values, self confidence, coping, decision making, healthy relationships, being faithful. And then there is what the Save the Children team calls “technical” – HIV/AIDS – what causes it, how to prevent it, benefits and challenges with abstinence. We have had GREAT success with connecting soccer (a sport that is all about decision making under pressure) to the even more important lifestyle decisions these kids face every day. These coaches and peer educators are thirsty. Thankfully, Save the Children and Soccer Saves have some water for them.

Back to the kids…snotty-noses and dirty and greasy, flock to Uncle Nubby and cling like sticky paper wherever I go. When I pull out the camera they mob me and begin smiling…many times with teeth browned and chipped thru neglect or absence of normal amenities! (AMENITIES????) Think about it?! Most kids in America hear “go brush your teeth” as a burden they must bear and we keep the dentists busy because we overlook the flimsy way they execute that chore! These kids would happily brush IF THEY HAD SOMETHING TO BRUSH WITH!! Oh, so we Americans can’t invest in a few million toothbrushes and some paste let alone recruit some dentists to come for a visit and “out of the mouths of children” may come a new generation of smiling, happy healthy people?!!)

One thing clears up in a big hurry over here: If we help one he/she immediately rushes out to ‘bring’ a friend; they bring two more then it’s eight + eight = sixteen, 32, 64,128, 256, 512,1,024, 2,048 4,096…you get the idea! The good news is the math takes care of itself. I mean, yesterday I did a walk-a-bout to various clusters of kids with balls worn to the cloth and dirt clouds that would make the small shadow trailing Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen look like fresh towels at a Marriott resort.

Day Two (yesterday, June 2) I strolled thru seven fields in Adama – one of Ethiopia’s poorest cities -and, after hugging and photo-ing and dribbling and passing dusty balls back and forth with scores of kids practicing, playing and rehearsing crude drills, today as neared the classroom - where we made presentations to the coaches - from everywhere kids appeared. They were like ants wherever Nubby appeared. The drought of 1984 in Ethiopia cannot compare to the drought of knowledge – and accompanying thirst for information these millions of kids represent. They are hungry and their bodies show it; but they are at once candidates for new insight, knowledge and change.

THEY EXIST TO LEARN AND the challenge is clear: GET TO THEM BEFORE THEY STOP THINKING AT AROUND 18 AND UP!!! Tomorrow, Day Four, The Nubber heads to the fields to lead these 34 thru sample training sessions while showing them how they can incorporate our message about healthy lifestyles, HIV/AIDS education, nutrition, reproductive principles etc. into their teaching. For example, today – in our chalk talk session - I was sharing with them how to help teach the very young how to learn soccer skills thru the use of games e.g. – heading a ball over a bench into a garbage can instead of demonstrating the art of heading (which seven and eight-year olds won’t stand still long enough to learn). By the same token, once these kids are ‘reeled’ in, we can start talking about making better choices about their daily lives. It’s a captive audience and it’s a SLAM DUNK!!! Stay tuned for the field session tomorrow: It will be the first ever ORGANIZED soccer training some of them will have ever experienced!!

The Future of Ethiopia (Kid Pics)

No time today for long prose. Just pictures that say it better than this groggy brain could today.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Save the Children Ethiopia and the Kids of Adama

June 2, 2009

Fasten your seat belt. I don’t know where to begin and will NOT want to end. The day started with an Indy 500 weaving, bobbing, jolting, soaring, jarring Save the Children SUV ride – with STC driver Seasigh (I couldn’t understand him and after three tries at figuring out what to call him I phoneticized and decided to remember how to say his name by thinking of “sea side”).

We meet with the Save the Children leadership team and Soccer Saves project team in Addis. Dennis, Margaret, Marc, Yeshi and others are bright, articulate and funny. But most of all you can see that they care about the kids very deeply. The told us some statistics that make my head spin. They talk about OVC’s (orphans and vulnerable children) and I think that’s a technical term for what I was – a foster kid, a street kid. But in Ethiopia (the second most populated country in Africa) there are 5.5 MILLION of them. I wonder how many foster kids and street kids were in Michigan when I was growing up. Nothing close to 5.5 MILLION.
Most have been orphaned because one of both of their parents had HIV/AIDS and died. Vulnerable?, yes!!! At risk?, yes!!! Deserve a shot? You bet.

Frank walks through the goals for the pilot program and emphasizes that this is about learning – what can we learn about the program, what can we learn about our partnership and most importantly, what can we learn from the kids, their parents and their coaches. We then get a security briefing which actually made me feel less secure but I guess its standard to do that. Frank looked at me and said “we will be fine” which probably isn’t Office of Homeland Security type stuff but what the hay.

And then we were off to Adama (aka Nazereth). A two hour drive that left me speechless. Is that even possible? A kaleidoscope of people, landscape and poverty that made me think “everyone should see this in their lifetime”. Imagine an Interstate highway with no lane markings and literally thousands of little blue golf-cart taxis – called “budgets” driving on both sides of the street...trucks on the wrong side of the road and goats, donkeys, cattle – tended by no one and miles of rock piles, dust clouds, heaps of garbage everywhere and absolutely construction everywhere. However, the construction sites lacked any high-rise cranes and instead of the normal leggo-straight steel scaffolding every inch of it comprised loosely patterned thin wood poles. Dust clouds and emission spirals thicken the air, burn the eyes and coat the throat! (Poet??)

We arrive in Adama and the very brilliant Save the Children staff takes yours truly to the playing grounds of Adama. Voila. The kids!! The children hanging off Uncle Nubby like overripe bananas on sagging vines! Girls, boys, barefoot, covered with dust, tattered clothing but lit up like the aurora borealis when the Nubber jumped in and taught them cheers, a few moves and why you don’t play with matches when fooling around with dynamite. Language barrier? For sure. But soccer is the world’s game. It’s universal. Now I wish that all my former players and all the NW Soccer Camp kids could be here. It’s been a blast today. From the very impressive Save the Children team in Addis to the kids of Adama.

Off to bed. No Hilton in Adama. Actually electricity is in short supply and the water main just outside our hotel just broke. Sleeping under my first malaria net tonite. Sweet dreams.

Getting to Addis (Part 2)

Captains Log – Bloggen from 35K on our way to Addis

May 31 …. Rise at 3 aaaa yammmm – after only two hours sleep following a crazy SoundersFC vs. Columbus 1-1 tie. The radio broadcast was a high wire experience with Kevin Calabro (he is the best and my hero). Quickly pack 70 lbs. of Sounders’ jerseys and Soccer Saves T-shirts for kids and coaches in Ethiopia. Make the mad dash to the airport for an incredibly full 6:10 flight to Chicago. Who flies at this time on a Sunday morning? Oh wait, we are. Never mind.

The first leg of the trip I shared with a professorial seatmate with an Amish fedora that turned out to be a farmer from West Virginia who raises Alpacas. Nothing special or crazy about that except, after a lifetime of farming he decided to pursue his PhD in hydrotherapy studies believing man can raise cattle, horses and survive more successfully UNDER WATER! When he finally came up for breath he asked what I was doing on the plane! Answer: Headed to Ethiopia and Nairobi to sink the stakes in a program designed to reach out to 900,000,047 teenagers who desperately need education and support to help them with making the right healthy lifestyles choices. HIV/AIDS, gender equity and a better grasp of reproductive formulae wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for the 4 hour journey to Chicago but by the time we landed the professor was ready to sign on and ride an Alpaca to Addis Ababababababa with me. Hmmm, maybe this answers the question "what type of people are flying at 6 aaaaay yam on Sunday morning".

Hit Chicago, on to Frankfurt and then to Addis. At some point in our journey an Air France Airbus 300 was leaving Rio for Paris. The news does not look good. Prayers ascending to those that vanished and their family and friends.

We arrive in Addis and after a comical visa application “process” we were greeted by one of the truly special people in Save the Children clothing, Dennis Walto, whose story I will cover later. Sufficient for now, we made it and after a quick libation and a bite to eat we went off to bed in Addis Ababababaaaa’s wonderful Hilton Hotel! Thank you, Baron and Conrad, for including Ethiopia on your list of inns!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Getting to Addis

My partner, Frank Schott and our partners Save the Children have commissioned me to produce a blog of our upcoming journey to Ethiopia and Nairobi. That all may sound good to you but get this: I have never read a blog (too busy for busy stuff…) and I have never written one…’til now! So here's my first blog entry.

At O-Dark-Hundred Sunday morning we head for Addis Ababa which might have to be one of the all time great names for a city. I refer to it as Addis Abababababababbaa…in honor of my old friend, the late Steve Agbaba who always introduced himself as Agabababababbaaaa. Okay, all seriousness aside, the purpose of our trip is to work with Save the Children (STC) on the first Soccer Saves pilot project. After three or four plane changes and 447 hours in the air we will arrive in Addis and receive a briefing with the regional STC staff after which we will travel about 2 hours north to Adama for a week of soccer and life skills training exercises.

Yesterday Frank sent me a checklist of what to bring which was much longer than I expected. Frank has been to Africa at least 9,047 times (actually only about 20…) and his experience has been extremely helpful with the program design, interactions with STC and the fun stuff like yellow fever shots, malaria meds, DEET (another great name) and protocol.

Thank you to all for your support -- both financial and words of encouragement. Special thanks to the Soccer Saves team who continue to make amazing progress on the Soccer Saves Golf Classic and the "Roast the Nub" dinner that follows (looking forward to that!!).

Internet connections in Ethiopia may be tricky in places but we will make every effort to give you a day by day recap of this amazing program and the people we meet.

Check back to http://www.soccersaves.org/ for daily updates.