I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that prior to my trip to Rwanda, I was not a billion percent sure what I would be doing as an Athlete Ambassador on my volunteer trip with Kids Play International (KPI). Yes, I had my itinerary printed out, I knew what KPI represents and what they do. Yet for me, it’s a completely different thing to actually experience KPI in action. To experience the culture, the land, the people, and the communities within Rwanda, all intertwined with the wholesome goodness of KPI’s influence. It has brought perspective and the utmost respect for this organization.
I figured I would just have to wait and see what these two weeks shall bring, so after 30+ hours of relaxing and luxurious traveling (ha, if that’s what you call it when your legs swell up like balloons and you get to eat mystery meat on your flight), I was ready to experience the real deal!
In a Nutshell
Right down to the nitty gritty, KPI is a nonprofit organization founded by 3x Olympian Tracy Evans, and its main focus is to use sports to educate. KPI has created a sports program for youth in the town of Gatagara, Rwanda, bringing in local coaches to lead it throughout the year. Soccer, track and field, volleyball, and baseball, team building skills, warming up and cooling down, all sorts of healthy activities for boys and girls to participate in. From the kids who are a part of the program, KPI finds out who is in school and who is not. For those who are not, KPI finds out if there is something that they can do to support these children, giving them an opportunity for an education.
Anyone who has been an athlete knows that playing your sport will only take you so far, even if you’re an Olympic Athlete. There comes a point in everyone’s life that they hang up their cap, uniform, jersey, swimsuit, or goggles, and take their career in a new direction. Yet we will always carry with us the confidence, work ethic, motivation, and communication skills that we gained from training and competing in the game we love.
Create the Opportunity
I’m not sure about you, but I’m a skeptical kid and one to wonder “where does my money really go” when I think about making a donation to a cause. Is it going to the right places? Is it actually making a difference? As I stand on the soccer field overlooking the rolling hills in Gatagara, Rwanda, and see what KPI has created, I am happy to report: YES it DOES.
I am witnessing here in Rwanda the positive influence that KPI has on a child, providing them an opportunity to play sports and gain an education that will take them farther than they could ever imagine. Most of us would not consider a soccer ball a hot commodity. Heck, most of us probably have a couple in the garage and don’t even use it anymore. Though plastic bags are illegal here, kids will cram a bunch of plastic bags they find together and tie it all up to create a makeshift ball. So when you bring out a proper soccer ball here, it is providing a new and genuine opportunity for these kids.
Mix the ball in with coaching, developmental skills, encouragement, opportunity, and education, and you’ve got something great going on! And this, my friends, is what KPI is all about.