In a world of prevalent poverty and unrest, there is still one thing that can unite people of all classes, ages, and ethnicities: soccer.
UCSB freshman Nicolette Iribarne has played soccer since she was five. She’s also traveled extensively around the world.
“In almost every country, everything is centered on soccer. In alleyways in Brazil two kids will be playing soccer on the street; in Thailand where they have no running water, they play soccer. In Bolivia in the desert, I played soccer with the locals,” Iribarne said. “It’s more than a game. It’s a way of life. It’s a diversion, and you don’t need much to do it.”
All you need is a soccer ball, and for the past three years, Iribarne, 19, has been collecting, packing, and distributing suitcases full of deflated balls around the world. Refugee camps in Azerbaijan (north of Iran), a military base in Iraq, an aid center in New Orleans, and charities in Colombia and Mexico have all received soccer balls from Iribarne. She even personally took some to Per° and Bolivia last summer.
This summer she will be traveling throughout Per°, Bolivia, and Chile with 200 other international students through a program called Ruta Inka. The trip will serve as an educational experience, but Iribarne has an additional motive, and it involves soccer balls.
She has received ball donations from several clubs and teams on the West Coast, but the more balls the better, and Iribarne is seeking more contributions. Soccer balls would be appreciated, but every ball someday goes flat, so she hopes to get pumps and needles, too. Meanwhile, for soccer ball deliveries to other regions of the globe, Iribarne is asking for monetary donations to help with shipment costs. She also suggests donating to the charity organization Soccer for Hope in Aliso Viejo, Orange County, with which she’s been working.
“I can’t solve all the world’s problems,” she admitted, “but just one soccer ball can give people a way of having fun and can bring entire communities together. I’ve seen it.”