- Published on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 18:01
- Category: Featured Partner: elan Magazine
There is an African proverb that says: It takes a village to raise a child, but what if sometimes it takes a child to raise a village? This generation’s youth are taking a lead in raising awareness of global issues and championing critical causes from homelessness to girls’ education to hunger.
They are reaching out to communities outside of their own, ones that may speak different languages, have different traditions and believe in different faiths. But nonetheless, with today’s technology and communication, a global network of activists and entrepreneurs is growing. American teenagers are mobilizing action through local African partnerships with their own initiatives to facing the challenges of meeting Africa’s needs.
Soccer is considered the world’s most popular sport, but the fact that so many underprivileged children in Africa will never get the chance to play motivated California teenagers Kyle and Garrett Weiss to start a nonprofit that would change that. The brothers come from a family of passionate European soccer fans. After meeting some Angolan fans at a World Cup game in Germany in 2006, the brothers learned about the conflict in Angola and how much soccer meant to the people there.
“In Africa, it’s like a religion…They live it and breathe it,” says Kyle.
When they returned home, the two told their friends and decided to start raising money to send equipment over like cleats and soccer balls. At an introductory planning meeting, Kyle says they decided they needed to build a proper soccer field first. In 2007, FUNDaFIELD was born– a 501c-3 non-profit led by youth dedicated to enriching the lives of less fortunate kids in the developing world through sports.
FUNDaFIELD breaks down the field in to $1 squares and puts the initials of the donor on each square purchased. For example, if you donate $5, your name is put on 5 squares of the field. You can also purchase squares in honor or celebration of another person or event. The pictures of the field with all the donor initials are updated on the organization’s website regularly with each donations.
Kyle says the idea came from mosaic tiles seen at Disneyland.
“We wanted people to feel like they were making a difference and are able to see that,” he says. “People like to see what their impact is, something concrete, even though realistically, it’s just initials on a spreadsheet on the computer.”
Over the past five years, FUNDaFIELD has built 8 soccer fields in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda and future project sites identified in the Congo and Swaziland. They have also sponsored four youth soccer tournaments in Uganda and South Africa. FUNDaFIELD has local partners and an employee in Uganda who help with construction on the ground
Along with balancing his academic and personal life, Kyle says dealing with cultural, language and time barriers as well as corruption made doing FUNDaFIELD’s work difficult.
“The whole concept of culture is underestimated. You just can’t just go into a community and build a field. You have to have the community tell you what they want and let them take ownership,” Kyle says.
He also says that studies have shown sports is such a huge form of therapy and helps increase school attendance and enrollment, which is something FUNDaFIELD wants to help more people understand.
The passion Kyle and the rest of the FUNDaFIELD team have drove them to raise $140,000 and caught the attention of English soccer player David Beckham who recently presented Kyle with a Nickelodeon HALO Award, honoring inspiring American youth, on November 6th, 2011.
Kyle isn’t the only one who is trying to help children through sports. Austin Gutwein of Mesa, Arizona started a nonprofit in 2004 when he was ten years old to benefit orphans affected by the HIV/AIDs pandemic.
The United Nations estimates more than 5,700 children are orphaned each day because of HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that over 15 million children have already lost one or both of their parents to this disease. Of the 15 million, 12 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. Austin says he saw a video about a girl that had lost her parents due to AIDS.
“At the time I was 9 and I didn’t know what AIDS was,” the now 17-year-old high school senior said. “I just wanted to make a difference.”
That difference became Hoops of Hope, a marathon of basketball free-throws, that encourages participants all over the world to raise money for free throws shot. The free-throws shot are in recognition for the number of children orphaned each day. Anyone can host a tournament at heir school, church and community centers and begin to fundraise for the nonprofit. All the money goes directly to the Hoops of Hope’s various projects from schools, medical facilities, food, shelter and more.
The first tournament Austin held with his family and friends raised $3,000 and since then, Austin says Hoops of Hope has raised over $2.5 million with 100% going straight to the projects thanks to donations from private donors and partners to support other necessary expenses.
“We’ve built a school, four dorms, a computer lab at that school, two medical clinics, two orphan hope centers and numerous well centers,” Austin says.
For Austin, Hoops of Hope has never been like a job for him but a “way for me to volunteer and serve.”
For Jessica Markowitz, 15, starting her nonprofit, Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE in 2007 to fund girls’ education in Rwanda was also inspired by the story of one person.
“My original inspiration stemmed from Richard, a Rwandan human rights activist who stayed with my family and recounted many sad tales about the many girls who were orphaned and could no longer afford to go to school,” she says. Jessica believed education is a human right and was shocked to find out how girls were missing out on something they deserved.
The word impuhwe means compassion in Kinyarwanda, a Rwandan dialect, and compassion is a trait central to the work of Jessica’s organization. Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE is all about creating bonds between American students and Rwandan students since Jessica started holding fundraisers with a group of students at her Seattle Girls School. Due to their fundraising efforts, 40 girls are being supported through their secondary education needs including school fees, uniform, school supplies and insurance coverage.
There are now seven chapters of Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE across Seattle and two in Kigali, Rwanda, but the movement is just beginning. Some of the projects the organization is focused on is eliminating discrimination in education, supporting mentorship, collaborating with Rwanda NGOs, teaching high school students about fundraising and grant-writing and more.
Jessica says what is unique about her nonprofit is that it is about “not only providing assistance wherever possible, but also working to help young women become capable of helping others in their own right, a cyclical setup that ensures future triumphs.”
American students that get involved have the opportunities to have pen pals and authentic friendships with the girls in the rural Rwandan villages. Jessica acknowledged the same challenge Kyle mentioned about the distance making the work complicated, however she has enjoyed connecting young women across the world.
“To see first hand how effective their education is on their lives, communities and families has been incredible. Additionally it is rewarding to know that students from the US are joining our organization to become global citizens,” she says.
Even though these three young activists have had to put in a lot of hard work and effort that most people much older would never do, it’s all been worth it when they look at the results of what they’ve accomplished with their nonprofits.
Jessica says her family and friends have been valuable support to her organization. She also feels that there are currently lots of opportunities for youth to become leaders for social good because of the power of social media and the Internet, so aspiring entrepreneurs should never give up.
“The spirit for social entrepreneurs is very strong and the world has high hopes for this generation,” she says. “In the past five years organizations have been established focusing on helping social entrepreneurs more than ever before.”
Austin agrees saying that if someone wants to make a change; it’s all about taking action.
“I would encourage anyone else to just do something. No matter what it is, you can make a difference.”
Kyle, Austin and Jessica are only a few of the young activists working to build a brighter future with their perseverance, optimism and savvy use of media to draw attention to their causes. They understand the nuances of the social work they are doing in their respective African countries and have enlisted the help of experts and professionals to help their projects succeed. These teens are proof of a new generation of empowered, engaged individuals ready to tackle the world’s problems no matter how old they are.By Nesima Aberra, Elan Magazine
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