Life without soccer seems like a cruel joke to many, but thousands of people live in impoverished conditions without the help of soccer everyday. Thankfully, Balls Without Borders, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, is working hard to improve that reality with the help of soccer. Led by Viva Guerrero, president and CEO, BWB has improved the lives of countless children in war-torn countries by donating soccer balls to lend as a distraction, therapeutic aid and so much more. We had the opportunity to catch up with Viva Guerrero to learn more about her organization and what she hopes to accomplish in 2011.
How did the idea for this organization begin?
In October 2007, Iraq won the Asia Cup. For 24 hours, the only gunfire going off was in celebration of the victory. The entire country took to the streets, Iraqis were hugging American soldiers, everyone was so happy there was a 24 hour cease fire. We noticed then that soccer, or sport in general, had the power to bring people together regardless of race, social demographic, or money. It is a common denominator.
One month later, Major Brian Dennis and his team of Special Operations Marines were working along the border of Iraq and Jordan. There, in No Man’s Land, they ran across a refugee camp for displaced Awazi Kurdish people. They were seemingly forgotten for two years before the Marines rolled up. There were kids being raised inside the fence and they had no toys. When Brian asked what they wanted, they all wanted soccer balls. He wrote a letter home, and I called my old coach who gave us ten balls. We shipped them out and our old team manager happened to be a lawyer and gave us a template to follow to form our own non-profit org. The rest is history!
What was your main goal when you first started BWB? Did you ever think your program would be where it is today?
When I started BWB, in the back of my mind I had this feeling that it just made sense. I recalled how I felt back when i was 11 years old playing alone with a ball thinking about how I just learned that kids in poor regions around the world had to play soccer with a makeshift ball. I remember how lucky I thought I was for the first time, simply because I had a ball to play with, I loved the game so much. I spent hours a day learning to juggle. So when the opportunity came to actually send balls to such kids, it was like a calling.
Combined with my studies in college, it was like that saying, “luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” To be honest, I immediately saw the potential for this endeavor. In the last three years it has grown by leaps and bounds and it gets bigger at least threefold every year. In our second year alone we went after a world record for the “Most amount of people juggling a soccer ball in a stadium at once” then we donated the balls to over 500 kids in Nelson Mandela’s Orphanages during the World Cup, so the potential to make a difference in the world is here, in the soccer community, and BWB is tapping it.
Where do you see your BWB going in 2011?
BWB is looking to reach a larger audience and this year we are going after just that. Luckily we are based in Los Angeles and have an outstanding resource: the entertainment industry. We are producing a documentary and several Public Service Announcements that demonstrate the work our organization does. We will be traveling to some of the most remote and dangerous locations on earth to find certain kids, give them a ball, and see how it affects their lives. We want to bring a visual home to our supporters in the hopes that such multimedia can garner more help, more teams getting involved, more individual ball donations.
South America is certainly a part of our game plan. The first thing we want to do is get our web page in different languages, including Spanish. Soccer is so predominant in the cultures of Latin America that it is hard to believe that they need any more soccer balls, but they do! Especially in remote areas. We would like to reach more orphanages and schools because we have seen the positive effects soccer has to keep kids in school. Plus, the continent is such a great place for talent, we would love the chance to encourage that growth.
How can people get involved?
The easiest thing people can do, is send us a ball, new or used. We love the old soccer balls you might have stored away in the back of your garage, retired from being kicked around. We’ll give it a new life on the other side of the world. Just deflate it, and send it to our address: 5748 Thomicia Place, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.
We can always use donations for shipping and handling (BWB is a 100% vollunteer organization so your donations go straight to the cause. They are also a 501C(3) tax write-off). If someone wants to get even more involved, send us a message firstname.lastname@example.org and we can determine what skills you may have to offer. Everyone can help, we can use all kinds of people from ball packaging and event help to starting a BWB branch in your neighborhood. Sky’s the limit, it just takes one to get the ball rolling…
To learn more about Balls Without Borders, visit their website at www.ballswithoutborders.com/