2 July 2014

How A Childhood Memory Inspires One Man to Help SOS Children's Villages

By Huan Pham

My father was a former Vietnamese officer who fought side-by-side with American soldiers to protect democracy in South Vietnam. On April 30, 1975, right after the fall of Saigon, he was captured as a prisoner of war. He left behind a wife and six children who lived in a hut that lacked electricity and was made of corrugated metal roofing and wood.

At 8 years old, I was the oldest sibling. After school each day, the children of my poor village had to collect firewood at a nearby rubber tree farm. The farm was our sanctuary and where we spent entire summers playing soccer after collecting wood.

We were all poor and a real soccer ball only existed in our dreams. One day, though, we did find a torn soccer ball that we stuffed with dry hay. Nothing lasts long in the tropical weather and the leather ball disintegrated quickly.

If we wanted to keep playing soccer, we would have to fashion our own ball.

That’s when nature came to the rescue.

Around each rubber tree on the farm was a channel that spiraled around the trunk and deposited rubber sap into a collecting bowl.

After farmers collected the bowls, rubber sap would continue to drip from the trees. We would use the leftover rubber sap and coat the inside of two bowls. After drying the rubber in the sun, the two half-spheres of dried rubber were glued together as an inner tube for a soccer ball.

We would then use strings of rubber from the trees and wrap the man-made inner tube. With a few puffs of air, the makeshift ball came to life and we could play again. Our final product weighed around three pounds and would last for an entire season.

Growing up without adult supervision was hard. Our mothers worked two or three jobs to keep food on the table.

But soccer was there to shape our lives. Soccer made us stay together and it drove us to spend more time together in the peaceful, healthy outdoors. Soccer formed friendships and kept us out of trouble.

We learned many life lessons on the soccer field. In our games, there was no room for hatred. Teamwork and sportsmanship trumped silly acts of pride and arrogance.

Looking up to the sky through the canopy of rubber trees at breaks, we dreamed of real soccer balls falling from the sky. We dreamed of buying a soccer ball for every poor village like ours on Earth.

Please, make a donation to SOS Children’s Villages as they help children in poverty fulfill small dreams of having real soccer balls ‘fall from the sky'.

Searching on the Internet recently, I found that children are still making rubber soccer balls like ours in African and South American countries where rubber trees grow. In those photos of kids holding handmade balls made of unprocessed rubber, I saw myself.

Huan Pham is an employee of Amec, a corporate partner of SOS Children’s Villages.