PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, took time away from their day-to-day duties to deliver some soccer equipment to a local sports complex and challenge one of the local soccer teams to a friendly match.
The Marines delivered a variety of cleats, balls and jerseys donated by the United States Soccer Foundation before engaging in some friendly competition with a team from the Haitian Athletic Association.
“This was a good opportunity for us to get a break from operations, get a workout and help the community all at the same time,” said Capt. Jason Arthaud, India Company commander.
The game was not the first time that the Marines played soccer against one of the local teams.
“We’ve played other teams before. It’s been a great way for us to meet and interact with the community, and the Athletic Association has done a lot for the local people as well,” Arthaud explained.
The sports complex was started seven years ago as a way to bring the community together.
“I started this as more of a social program,” said Robert Duval, the association’s president, “Soccer was just an excuse to bring people together.”
But the complex does more than bring people together. Duval has been able to give an opportunity to kids with very little future.
“Ninety percent of these kids do not have parents, through this complex I’ve been able to feed them and even provide a temporary home for a few when I can.”
Located in the heart of one of Port-Au-Princes biggest slums, Duval turned an old bottling company’s abandoned dumpsite into several lush soccer fields.
“We’ve removed over twenty metric tons of glass form this site,” Duval said, “We brought in some dirt, a little seed and a lot of blood sweat and tears and this is what we ended up with,” he explained.
The association and the complex, built to have a positive impact on the people, operates completely by donations. This is one reason why Arthaud said donating equipment to this complex was so important.
“Mr. Duval has done something really good for the community and since we met him he’s never asked for a thing. He’s a genuinely good guy who is trying to do what we are, which is help the community,” Arthaud said.
Interacting with the kids through sports is a way for the Marines who patrol the city streets to learn about what the people’s needs are according to Pfc Ahmed Hernandez, a riflemen with India Company.
“Coming into direct contact with the community like this gives you a better sense of what will help make their lives better,” Hernandez said. “Doing things like this is fun and gives us a break from our normal routine. Besides, the more contact we have with them, the more opportunities we have to let them know that we are here to help, not harm them.”