Five years ago, I discovered a movement.
My cousin was volunteering for Grassroot Soccer, an organization that uses soccer drills to teach children all over the continent of Africa the life skills to prevent AIDS. Soccer?! I instantly saw the potential for a film.
So I dug a little deeper, and what I found was a growing movement using the power of sports to tackle the most difficult of circumstances facing kids around the world.
I was never a particularly sporty kid—as my parents would readily divulge. One of their favorite stories to relay is me as a five-year-old, running away from the ball during a little league soccer game. (I swear there are pictures that refute that!)
But you don’t need to be a sports fanatic to understand that that fanaticism can run deep—particularly, when it’s over the religion of soccer.
And if soccer is religion, the World Cup is Mecca. Every four years, the majority of the world is glued to this one event. It dominates idle chatter, news reports, family dinner—everything becomes centered around the games.
Hence, CHANGING THE GAME.
In chasing down the sports-for-empowerment movement, I discovered the Football for Hope Festival—an innovative collaboration between streetfootballworld and FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup, to showcase the social dimension of soccer. In other words, an all-out international street soccer competition as an official part of the 2010 World Cup, where teams of teens from around the world using soccer to change their lives pit the universal drive to win against the values of sportsmanship and fair play. In other words, a “World Cup” to change lives.
When I discovered the festival, I knew I found my film’s narrative vehicle. Combining a story of social change with the world’s most popular sporting event? It was a no-brainer. I loved the idea of using a fun, exciting story to explore darker issues. I loved the idea of telling a global youth-driven story where kids from the most disparate backgrounds share a common language and a common goal: soccer and the drive for a better future. I could imagine a child anywhere in the world seeing themselves in these teens’ stories.
I taught after-school and summer programs for several years to teens from very different backgrounds. We used video and music production to get them to think critically about their communities. It took some time, but it worked. From those experiences, I could see how using the sport by which these kids often live and breathe, you could tackle topics they would otherwise resist. Similarly, by using a film that’s fun and exciting, we can teach kids from the most marginalized communities that they are not alone in this world, and hopefully empower them to fight for a better future.
So I quickly scoured the Football for Hope roster for the teams I wanted to focus on. It wasn’t easy! Streetfootballworld is an international body that contains within its umbrella hundreds of inspiring organizations from all over the globe. For instance, Magic Bus in India uses soccer to rise above slum life in Bombay. In Cambodia, Spirit of Soccer empowers children in lands ridden with minefields. And Football United gives refugee children in Australia a new home.
But with limited time and resources, I had to make tough decisions. I knew I wanted to include Team South Africa, as the representatives of the home of the first-ever World Cup on the African continent. Sphume and Zime’s story at WhizzKids United appealed to me because they’re surviving in the epicenter of the world’s HIV epidemic. Literally! Lamontville Township has the highest rate in South Africa and the highest in the world. Even more—as young women they are particularly vulnerable and are fighting the stereotype in their community that girls can’t play soccer Yeah they can!
I knew I wanted to include Team USA, because I’m American and I feel America often gets lost from the development dialogue. Nury and Mustapha, growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, have to make major life choices every day that mean the difference between a life in jail (or worse), and a life of success. And so, they chose to play soccer at STARFINDER, which has a 100 percent graduation rate in a city with a nearly 60 percent drop-out rate.
That left the third story… Maybe it’s growing up in NY, maybe it’s my background of chasing the human side of war stories since entering journalism... but I just could not resist the Israeli-Palestinian story from the PERES CENTER. The conflict is always presented as so impenetrable. But Ron, Liron, Liza and Abed—growing up in an environment of separation, violence and hate—play together on the PEACE TEAM.
Most of the footage has been shot before, during, and after the Festival. We have follow-up shoots scheduled with each of our teens as they prep the next set of teens for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But now we face the daunting task of laying out the story. Six teens, three continents, four (plus!) languages... Nobody said it was going to be easy. But I have pulled together an incredible team with the experience to weave this complicated story into a compelling heartfelt narrative of journey, competition, and the transformative power of soccer.
By supporting our Kickstarter project you will bring us one step closer to premiering this film when the world’s eyes once again focus on soccer’s mecca—the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But moreover, by supporting this film, you will show the world that we all want to change the lives of teens everywhere through the power of a ball.
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.