Within the span of a few minutes, 1.5 million children in one of the poorest countries in the world became more vulnerable than ever. The earthquake on January 12, 2010 in Haiti took the lives of 222,570 people and left 302,000 children homeless. Communities were torn apart as traditional gathering places became rubble; 4,000 schools and 60% of Haiti’s government and administrative buildings were destroyed.
For the 4.5 million children growing up in Haiti, dealing with the aftereffects of a natural disaster is a part of daily life. Today, only 28% of children in Haiti have access to sanitation and 25% (over 1.1 million children) are chronically malnourished. Most children drop out of school early — nearly 60% — because of financial difficulties, and many find themselves living in domestic slavery (close to 225,000 children, according to UNICEF).
2012 World of Children Honoree Kyle Weiss was deeply affected by the devastation in Haiti, and knew that his nonprofit organization, FUNDaFIELD, could help rebuild the lives of children and their communities by giving people a unique space to gather, build trust and revive spirits: a soccer field.
Though perhaps the sport cannot cure disease or feed an empty stomach, Kyle’s program has proven that soccer brings people together and instills a sense of hope where there wasn’t any before. At Kyabirwa Primary School in Uganda, Kyle’s field helped increase enrollment by 67% in a single year; soccer tournaments single-handedly brought together neighbors that haven’t spoken since the civil war; and community involvement has increased dramatically with community members sharing duties for field maintenance and creating a soccer-based curriculum.
After receiving the 2012 World of Children Youth Award last October, Kyle committed part of his grant funding to build new fields in Haiti. However, he needed to know where to start. The World of Children connected him with Chances for Children founder Kathi Juntunen — who met the World of Children’s co-founder, Harry Leibowitz, in Haiti two years ago — and 2006 Humanitarian Award Honoree Dr. Jane Aronson of Worldwide Orphans (WWO) who has long been working in Haiti.
“I met Kyle this past October at World of Children for their annual awards ceremony,” said Dr. Aronson in her recent article on the Huffington Post, “and knew from the moment I met him that we would partner together.”
Both Dr. Aronson and Kathi have impacted the lives of thousands of orphaned and disadvantaged children in Haiti, and gave Kyle insight into successfully launching his project.
Just last week, Kyle made a trip down to Haiti to start planning where he would build his first fields. He met up with Dr. Aronson at WWO’s Toy Libary in Kenscoff, a small, mountainous town southeast of Port-au-Prince.
“Dr. Jane is so motivating to be around,” Kyle said. “It was really interesting to hear her thoughts and her strategies for getting things done.”
Even more than that, Kyle was moved by the children in the program, who were all smiles when Kyle, Dr. Aronson and other WWO staff members joined them for a game of soccer.
“The happiness of the children simply strips us of our defensives,” Dr. Aronson said.
Once built, Kyle’s fields will directly impact the lives of an estimated 45,944 children. Among other outcomes, FUNDaFIELD expects a 20% increase in school attendance and a 15% increase in enrollment. Beyond that, children and their local community will be brought together by frequent games and tournaments, where they can leave behind their struggles with poverty, and simply share a smile with their neighbors.
Read more about Kyle and how he is helping children in need around the globe by visiting his Honoree page.