The World Cup is over but a couple of Minnesota kids are preparing for their own international soccer challenge a lot closer to home.
Kef Martin of St. Anthony, 9, and two friends his two friends, Charlie and Ruthie Iyegha, ages 9 and 7 are holding an event on July 20th called Kickin' For Haiti. It is a one-mile soccer kick fun run to fund school tuition and meals for children in Haiti.
This is the second year the children are holding the event. Last year the trio's goal was $30 and they raised nearly $2,000 by the end.
The idea was born last year when Martin ran into two children from Haiti at a local soccer field. The teacher hosting the children told Martin that the children were here through the Haitian Initiative, to play in the Schwan's USA Cup, an international youth soccer tournament that takes place in Minnesota every year. They invited him along with his friends to play with them.
"We were so thankful that they (let us practice with them), and we looked and found out that we could donate, so we made a fundraiser for them," Martin said. "That's how it got started." Martin was born in Ethiopia and lived there until he was three years old, and moved to the U.S. when he was adopted.
"We were chatting afterwards, talking about the life they lead when they go home," Martin's mother, Jennifer Martin, said about her conversation with her son. "It kind of hit home with my son specifically because he was born in Ethiopia, so he kind of understands what it's like to have less than we do here."
The fundraising event is bigger this year, Jennifer Martin said, and a children's soccer team from Haiti will join to play a game afterwards. She said the fundraiser has been successful for several reasons. "I think part of it was three adorable kids who had a cause," she said. "I think part of it was they worked really hard and contacted a lot of people."
The Haitian Initiative is a program that supports 300 kids in Cite Soleil. It is a program under the Sanneh Foundation of St. Paul, founded by Tony Sanneh, 43, who played in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. "To see a kid at such an early age to think outside the box about helping others is a pretty amazing feeling," Sanneh said.
Children in Haiti are so into soccer, Sanneh said, that they name themselves after their favorite players who play in the same position that they do. "They feel connected to the sport, they feel connected to the people," Sanneh said. "They just want to be part of it and they just want to be there. At this point, (during the World Cup) they're connecting with their heroes and fans. And they're just like every other kid in the world."
Kef Martin's friends Charlie and Ruthie were a large part of the reason it was a success, Sanneh said.
"People always ask me, 'My kids want to play professional something, how does that happen?'" Sanneh said. "And I say to them, 'Get them some best friends that like to do the same thing he likes to do. Connecting young people around positive actions and other positive kids is the best way to really develop them into future leaders."
Sanneh plans to attend the one-mile soccer kick, and he said meeting Kef Martin was inspiring. "You forget how happy kids are, and it takes you back to that moment," he said. "And it lets you just enjoy doing something good."
Kef Martin has played soccer since he was 4 years old, he said. As he prepares to do the one-mile kick, he is excited to see the Haiti team play afterwards.
"I just kind of feel happy helping kids all around the world," Kef Martin said. "I have a good life, a really good life, I want to help people have an even better life."
As for why he loves soccer so much, and why he thinks every kid should be able to play soccer, it's a simple reason: "It's just that you get to run around and have fun."
This year, their goal is $3,000. So far, they have raised more than $1,000, with two weeks left of the fundraiser.
If you goOne-mile Soccer Kick Fun Run to benefit the Haitian Initiative
Sunday, July 20
2 p.m., followed by a potluck and the U13 Haiti team scrimmage
Conway Community Recreation Center
Suggested donation $15 per family