Trading soccer balls for smiles
Parkite Amy Wilde spent the holidays this year with her boyfriend’s family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She visited his favorite haunts, mingled with locals and fell in love with the island culture.
Twelve days after she left the country, it was ravaged by a massive 7.0 earthquake that destroyed entire cities and killed an estimated 250,000 people.
The market where Wilde had purchased Christmas gifts for her family mere weeks earlier became a focal point for news coverage and a base for rescue efforts. The Haitian Palace she had visited on Christmas Eve was reduced to rubble.
"It’s hard to grasp that the picture in my mind is not what’s there anymore," she says. On June 14, she’ll find out exactly how different that picture is when she and her boyfriend, Karl-Henry Dossous, return to the country for the first time since the devastating natural disaster.
Wilde, a 2008 graduate of Park City High School, met Dossous about two years ago at the University of Utah, where they are both students. He was born and raised in Port-au-Prince and came to study in Utah on the advice of a college advisor (and Utah State University alum) he met while attending school in Florida.
After the earthquake, the couple knew they wanted to do something to help. Thinking about favorite Haitian pastimes, they decided to collect soccer equipment to distribute in schools, orphanages, churches and neighborhoods. "Everybody in Haiti loves soccer," Wilde says. "It seemed like the perfect thing."
They started the project by launching a student group, Love for Haiti, at the University of Utah with a few other students. The group sold LiveStrong-style bracelets to start a fund to purchase soccer balls and other supplies.
Then Wilde partnered with the Park City Soccer Club to collect donations at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse. Over the past month, she has amassed about 15 large boxes filled with new and used soccer balls, cleats, shin guards, uniforms and jerseys.
Wilde and Dossous will depart for Port-au-Prince in a little over a week and plan to stay for one month. It is by no accident that they will be in the country for the span of the World Cup in South Africa, which runs June 11 through July 11.
"During the World Cup, it’s a different life in Haiti," Dossous says. "It’s kind of hard to explain the feelings and emotions. You see happiness and smiles on people’s faces because their team is playing. You see people leaving work to go watch games."
"It’s such a big deal," Wilde adds. "People buy TVs just for the World Cup." Case in point, Dossous’ mother owns a small restaurant in Port-au-Prince that she had to close due to damage from the earthquake. She is currently preparing to reopen the restaurant and has purchased a flat-screen TV so that patrons can gather there to watch games.
Dossous says he is a little anxious about returning to his homeland. No one in his family was hurt, but seeing the destruction first-hand is bound to be emotionally wrenching. "I’m kind of worried, but at the same time I’m optimistic. I hope that [the rebuilding] will be a new step for the country," he says.
Once Wilde and Dossous are in Haiti, they will hand-deliver the donated equipment to needy teams, organizations and areas.
First, however, they must find a way to finance the cost of shipping more than a dozen boxes overseas. Wilde hopes to ship the items this week so that they will arrive in Haiti before she does. DHL estimated that the total cost to ship the boxes – 226 pounds altogether – will be around $700.
Wilde and Dossous are asking for donations from the Park City community to help cover the shipping fees and to further the project beyond their upcoming trip.
"We should keep doing this because I believe a sport can always make a difference," Dossous says. "It can change the way the world sees us." He hopes that someday Haiti will actually be able to participate in major sporting events like the World Cup instead of supporting other teams.
The country has a national team, but it is not near the level of other teams because of the lack of resources, he says. "We have the talent; it’s the infrastructure we don’t have."
Wilde recalls passing by a field in Salt Lake City recently and hearing Dossous express astonishment that no one was using it. "We take these things for granted," she says. "If the people in Haiti had that – one field – it would make a huge difference."
The couple plans to document their trip with photos and videos that they’ll send to donors upon their return. "I want people to know where their money went and to share the feeling that we get. I’m most excited to play soccer with the kids and just feel their happiness," Wilde says.
Anyone wishing to support the Love for Haiti project may send a donation in any amount to: Amy Wilde, P.O. Box 1505, Park City, 84060. For more information, email Wilde at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for "Love for Haiti 2010" on Facebook.
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