Chris Thompson always wanted to visit Africa.
In February, he fulfilled his lifelong dream and, in doing so, found the direction he'd been seeking in his life.
"I was raised by parents that taught me to be thankful for what I have and to give back whenever possible," Thompson wrote in an email from Kenya. "I have played sports since I could walk and it always helped me get through tough times."
That's the shorthand for a nice guy from Stonewall who was blessed with plenty of opportunities but who had failed to find a career path or ambition. He just knew he wanted to do something, anything, memorable.
Then came Africa.
Thompson flew to Egypt, moved onto Tanzania and then to Kenya. The children of Africa touched his heart. He wrote a letter to his niece and nephew back in Canada:
"I told them about how the average wage here is one dollar per day, so the kids don't have any toys to play with," he says. "I have seen thousands of kids kicking around coconuts, water bottles, balls made out of plastic bags or rags, often barefoot.
"I sent a similar letter to my friends," he says. "I got sent about $500 in two days. My niece and nephew even sent me the $40 they got from their grandmother for their birthdays."
Kickballs For Kids was born.
"As much as I love soccer, I cannot imagine kicking a coconut barefoot," he writes. "I decided that I didn't just want to be a tourist and talk about how awful things are, I wanted to try to make a difference."
When he first wrote to me, Thompson had purchased 62 soccer balls. His goal was 1,000. He's working on an association with Right To Play, an international aid organization.
"When I give a ball away, there is singing, dancing, shrieking, giggling, leaping, hugging," he writes. "It feels great to see and I have, at times, laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks. At the same time, it is hard to only have 10 balls for a group of 60 kids and to have to choose who gets one."
Thompson purchased his initial soccer balls at a sports store. His goal is now to get the balls from local markets to keep the money in communities. The balls cost between $7 and $15. He is adamant they not be the product of child labour.
He talks about the challenges he's facing.
"Driving around in a 14-person bus crammed full with 20 people and trying to carry 30 balls plus my backpack when there are already two gentlemen sitting on my lap," he laughs. "Also, we have whizzed by countless needy schools and towns without being able to stop. At some point, I have to consider the option of buying a car in order to make deliveries easier."
Thompson has raised nearly $3,000 for his campaign. If you're moved to donate you can reach him through PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a donation care of his parents: Ross and Lynne Thompson; Box 629; Stonewall, MB; R0C 2Z0.
Humanitarian Stephen Lewis has spoken about these sorts of ventures.
"Kids love to play, particularly orphaned children," he said. "It helps compensate for loss. It's a way of sublimating grief. They do it through play. If, in the course of all that, we're preventing them from getting the disease that killed their parents, then there's a lovely symmetry to that."
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In other humanitarian news, Villa Rosa is holding its annual Celebration of Motherhood Dinner on May 6 at the Clarion Hotel. Tickets are $150, with a $95 tax receipt.
Why should you care? Villa Rosa provides services to young single pregnant women, allowing their kids to have the best possible start in life. Last year, the dinner raised $40,000.
Call 786-5741, extension 224 if you want to buy a ticket.