By Sallyann Price, Rotary staff
At the Rotary International Convention in São Paulo this summer, a group of American high school students kicked a funny-looking soccer ball around the House of Friendship. The Interact club members from high schools in the Bay Area of California, USA, were raising money to send a volunteer team to Vietnam to give away 2,400 of these balls.
On assignment for The Rotarian, I traveled to Vietnam in July with a team of Interactors and Rotary members. The balls, produced by One World Play Project, a nonprofit based in Berkeley, California, are made of an unusual foam blend that kicks and bounces like a soccer ball but won’t puncture, deflate, or otherwise fall apart, an important consideration in the poor communities where children are least likely to have access to safe athletic equipment. In Vietnam, as in many other countries where One World Play Project partners with local agencies to distribute balls, kids will kick around whatever they can find — sometimes rocks, or bundles of banana leaves.
Over two weeks, we traveled from the northern capital city of Hanoi, through the mountains of the countryside, along the country’s scenic coastline, south to bustling Ho Chi Minh City and the villages of the Mekong Delta.
The trip was equal parts service, education, and diplomacy. In each community we visited, we handed out balls to kids at schools and athletic centers and challenged the recipients to a game. (The Americans were handily defeated in nearly every match.) We sampled lots of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and visited historic sites and cultural attractions, including the imperial tombs of the ancient Nguyen dynasty in Hue and the famous water puppet theater in Hanoi.
In a country with no Rotary clubs (the last one was disbanded amid political strife in the 1970s), the team members also served as goodwill ambassadors, meeting with local officials and working with registered local charities to share Rotary’s message of international understanding and development through hands-on service.
“This was my last year of Interact and I wanted to end it with a bang,” says Vu Dinh, a recent graduate of Mt. Eden High School in Hayward, California, where he was an active member of the Interact club.
“In high school, it’s often repeated that grades stay on your transcript forever. In Interact, you learn that the impact you make through service can affect people’s lives forever,” Dinh says. “When you travel to another country, you can see that impact firsthand. We’re giving away these soccer balls, but we’re also giving these kids the opportunity to play and grow as a community through sports, and letting people know Rotary is important.”