Hi Mac, Can you tell us about – Play It Forward and how you came up with this incredibly inspiring idea?
Well, my mum came back from a conference about the power of the internet and she made the following statement to my brother and I: “if we could have a website about anything (and she’d help us build it), what would it be?”. I knew I had always wanted a soccer website with tips and tricks which also supported a good cause.
At the time (2012 – I was 9), there was a lot on the news about Afghanistan and it really looked like the kids there didn’t have anything to play with. So I decided I wanted to send soccer balls to Afghanistan and I’d use the website to raise money.
I really love playing soccer (I’ve just been selected in the U12 National Premier League (NPL) here in Brisbane) and I think that all kids should have the opportunity to play soccer too so then we had to figure out how to get soccer balls to the kids in Afghanistan.
I wrote a letter to the Minister for Defence, Mr Stephen Smith asking if the Australian soldiers could take the soccer balls for us. And amazingly he said YES! So now I had to get the balls. That afternoon we were at a BBQ with some of my Mum and Dad’s friends and I was telling people about how I was going to raise money to buy 100 soccer balls for the kids of Afghanistan. Anyway, he says his company had done a promotion giving away soccer balls and he had 100 sitting in boxes in his warehouse that he wants to get rid off and he asked me if I wanted them.
And that’s how it started. A news crew went with soldiers who delivered the soccer balls and then it was on TV and I was asked to go on the Today Show. Since then, the project has grown bigger and bigger.
That’s amazing! So how many places in the world have you sent soccer balls to? What is your current tally?
So far we’ve sent over 2000 balls to 15 countries. I haven’t done this on my own though. On every occasion there has been someone going to these countries who has taken the soccer balls for us. Rotary International has been a big supporter of ours. I went to the Rotary International Convention in Sydney in June this year and I met hundreds of people with amazing projects helping people all over the world. These people have helped me to get soccer balls to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Nepal, The Maldives, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
When I was the guest speaker at a Rotary Club, I met Major Annette West from the Salvation Army. At the time she was going to Manus Island and the island of Nauru to help look after and support the asylum seekers being sent here. She took soccer balls for me. Major West told me that the people here have had a really tough time. She said they have nothing to do and sometimes they don’t get along so well, but when she turns up with a big box of soccer balls, they all come together to play.
One of my biggest achievements was getting soccer balls to the kids of Syria, thanks to the Australian Ambassador to Jordan. I really wanted to get soccer balls to the kids of Syria but because of the war I knew we couldn’t get soccer balls into the country. Then we realised there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. So I wrote a letter to the Australian Ambassador to Jordan, Ambassador Venamore and she agreed to distribute soccer balls to the Syrian children in refugee camps there. I received an email saying the balls went to an organisation in Jordan called CARE International. They are an NGO running a football program to build links between local Jordanian kids, Syrian refugees and Iraqi refugees. The kids got soccer balls and shirts with the money we sent over.
This month I also went to Canberra to deliver soccer balls to the kids of Gaza. I gave the balls to The General Delegate of Palestine (like the Ambassador). He will take the soccer balls to the kids of Gaza who lost their schools and homes during the bombing.
Mac you blow my mind! You were awarded a United Nations award at the age of 10!! What an experience! How did that feel?
Yep, this was pretty cool. I got to meet the Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Penelope Wensley and go to Government House. This got a lot of media coverage and I was on the Today Show and The Project again. I always raise lots of money on my website when I’m on TV or on the radio. But what was really amazing to me was the other people who won awards at the same time. They were doing some amazing stuff and have been doing so a lot longer than I have.
A couple of things. In September this year I went on a 10 day speaking tour of India. I spoke to 31 schools and over 10,000 students about why I think soccer balls can be used as an instrument for peace.
In October I was invited to speak in Shanghai, China. I had always wanted to get soccer balls to the kids in North Korea and thought this impossible, but in Shanghai, I met a fellow Randal, who has contacts in North Korea. He takes kids to Shanghai for heart surgery then returns them to their parents or orphanage in the DPRK. He said he’d help me to get soccer balls to the orphanages in North Korea. We are currently working to get 200 soccer balls and 200 uniforms into the country.
I’ll be in Melbourne this month for the Asian Cup to meet the players from the DPRK team. Looking forward to that.
I’m also raising money for soccer balls for the kids of Bangladesh. When I was in Sydney at the Rotary International convention, I met the incoming Rotary Governor for Bangladesh. He said if I could raise $5000, then he’d match it dollar for dollar and together we’d have $10,000 for the kids of Bangladesh. He also said he’ll organise a soccer tournament in celebration of the friendship between Australian and Bangladeshi kids. I think that’s pretty awesome.
So Im dying to know which football team you follow and which player inspires you the most?
I follow Manchester United, but my favourite player is Lionel Messi. Some people tell me I won’t be great at soccer because I’m one of the smallest kids on the team, but Messi has proven that size doesn’t matter when it comes to football.
I agree!! I also believe you have determination and dedication on your side. So here’s a silly question what would you like to be when you grow up?
A football player of course. But my other interest is Architecture. One of the most amazing things about my trip to Shanghai was the architecture of all the new buildings.
Mac I love what you are doing, please tell us how people of the world can get on board and be apart of your vision?