Sugarcane Soccer Fields

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Chinese gameOver 3000 years ago, the Chinese were first recorded to chase around a ball on a field, trying to kick it through a small hole in a piece of silk cloth, competing against Japanese and other Asian adversaries. As it moved across the continent, Ancient Rome and Greece began to enjoy their own versions of the game. By the middle ages, a game that would seem to be an ancestor to what we know today was often played by entire villages – with the whole population at the same time! As it made its way across the Chanel to England, it became known as a wild and unruly sport (surprise!), and was even banned by the monarchy for a while. By the mid-1800’s, it had become the most popular sport in England and most of Europe, and today, it is followed by more than 3 billion people worldwide. It is what we North Americans have chosen to call “soccer”, but the rest of the world refers to as football. I never fully understood how the whole world could seem to be so captivated by a sport revolving around a little black and white ball until that incredible day on the side of a mountain, in the middle of a cane field.Soccer kidsAll around us were endless fields of tall stalks of sugar cane. The sun was high in the sky, and though the ocean was miles away, we could see the coastline perfectly from up this high. It had the perfect makings for a movie scene: it could have been in a time period long before any of us were ever born, as there were no vehicles, buildings, or even fashions that would really indicate the current date. Small huts made of tin and cardboard, clustered together around a central meeting point, the smell of cooking fires in the air, and most of all…the shouts of each person as they cheered for their favorite team. Yes, it’s true: we were attending an international soccer competition!A Hero Holiday TeamWith Hero Holiday, we had been coming to this tiny village in Dominican Republic. We were working alongside the Haitian people who worked in those same cane fields that we were surrounded by, helping to dig the ditch that would bring a pipeline for fresh water to their village. They were amazing people, and they made us laugh and feel at home. They were welcoming and eager to have us there, and we loved every minute of it. What we weren’t expecting was what happened at the end of the first day, and what became the way we ended every day that we were with them: the international soccer competition – villagers versus Hero Holidayers.Imagine the rush of knowing that you are doing something that others may have only ever have dreamed of? A moment brought on by total spontaneity, resulting in the rush of feeling a part of a moment that makes you feel so alive that you wonder how you will ever convey that experience to someone else. It was that kind of moment! The whole village would come out and cheer from the sidelines as husbands, brothers and sons, all in their bare feet, heartily took on the Canadians, most of them in their Nikes. In those 45 minute games on hot July afternoons, I would watch as even the young daughter of the village leader, confined to a broken down wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, came to the sidelines with everyone and laughed and cheered for her friends and Cheering squadfamily. The nets were made of cane stalks, and the field was where the sugar cane had been cleared. The competitors could not speak each other’s language, and they were from opposite worlds in every possible way, but that summer, as I drank in the sounds of laughter, the cheering, and the simultaneous Creole, English, French and Spanish, I realized that this is why the world loves this game! It is the reason why camaraderie can exist, why sportsmanship is a time honored virtue, why the only thing that ever really separates us from others is what we perceive, and why it is so important for us to learn from each other and pull each other up. With the exception of income levels, educational opportunities, family backgrounds, and opportunities, underneath it all, we are all still the same, and we all need moments to remember, to inspire us, and remind us that we are not so different.At the end of the last game, knowing this was our last day with them, we had an idea. We were going to capture the moment on camera, and we took pictures of each team around their net. With pride, each team member linked arms and clasped shoulders as we realized how important moments like this are to remember. As we climbed back on our truck to go back to where we were staying, we were all chattering about how incredible it had been to be a part of the whole experience, and realizing that we were leaving a little part of ourselves back in that village: the part that lives for crazy moments of love, life, and laughter.PS…Yes, they defeated us every time!School ProjectLiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) runs Hero Holiday trips to Dominican Republic every year. While there, we focus on building schools and helping with sustainable development projects. This is possible because of people like you! You can join us on a Hero Holiday in one of our locations that we go to. Please check out for more information on how you can get involved in what we do in high schools, our School Of Leadership, and our Hero Holiday trips. Your life makes the difference!Friendship makes prosperity more brilliant, and lightens adversity by dividing and sharing it.~Cicero

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 29th, 2009