News: Donations help Iraqi children chase soccer dreams
Staff Sgt. Raymond Piper
4th Brigade Combat Team PAO
BAGHDAD -- In Iraq, $10 can buy a lot of goodwill.
Just ask Soldiers from 4th Brigade Combat Team who regularly give Iraqi children soccer balls they receive from U.S. donors.
"If someone feels good about giving us 10 soccer balls, and we go out on a patrol and make 10 friends and a favorable impression with the families and children â?¦ That's a $10 dollar investment that has a priceless payoff," said 1st Sgt. Mark Barnes of B Company, 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.
The regiment went a step further by delivering more than 140 boxes of soccer and office equipment to a soccer league Oct. 10.
As Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers unloaded the supplies at the stadium, hundreds of Iraq children practiced soccer on the green field under the watchful eyes of their coaches.
League founder Amu Baba said when they first started the league the field was in terrible condition, but he and the coaches worked to get it back into shape.
There are 350 children, ages 6 to 14, in the camp and the goal is to prepare them to represent Iraq on national teams. The children come from all over Baghdad to participate in the league.
"Soccer gives these kids hope," Barnes said. "Every one of these kids dreams of playing soccer professionally or playing on the Iraqi national team."
But there are other benefits to the kids being part of the soccer league.
"I think that if they are able to have a successful sports league and the children are able to experience the same type of happiness and healthy competition that we do in the United States, it's healthy for their families and communities. The children will grow up healthy and competitive," Barnes said.
Baba, often called the Pele of Iraq, feels this is the way to bring the children of Iraq to peace and help teach them to be good and keep them off the streets.
The more than $30,000 worth of supplies was donated by businesses and organizations in the U.S. and is part of a continual stream of donations from concerned citizens, Barnes said.
"The support is fantastic," he said. "It's been my experience everywhere. â?¦ that there is all kinds of support for this. People want to do what they can do, and they see this as a means to be able to do something."
Barnes explained that his company has received a lot of support from his hometown, companies and private organizations all over the country, and he and his Soldiers want to show the people of Iraq that they care about their security and their children.
"My company is an infantry company, and we have sectors that we patrol. If the situation allows it, we will take some soccer balls with us and pass them out to the kids," Barnes said.
This is the best way for the Americans to see the children, Baba said. If a Soldier gives them a ball, they will be happy and tell their mother and father that this ball is from Americans.
"Soccer is an international language," Barnes said. "Come out here and kick a soccer ball around and you can make a whole bunch of friends at one time. These kids are going to grow up and have opinions. Their thoughts are going to be shaped by their experiences and hopefully they will have happy memories of Americans."