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Playing Soccer Improves the Lives of African Children


More than three decades after graduating from De La Salle High School in Concord, CA, Mike Mitchell carries on the Lasallian spirit he learned. Relying on his experience with soccer, he is using the power and energy of the sport to improve the lives of children in Africa.

After graduating from De La Salle in 1975, Mitchell played soccer in college and then joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Niger, West Africa, where he was on a soccer team that won a national championship. Inspired by his time in Africa, Mitchell returned to the United States, got a master’s degree and started his program Project Play Africa. It delivers soccer balls and pumps to rural and impoverished communities in Africa with a meaning greater than athletics.

“Skills such as discipline, confidence, leadership, tolerance, cooperation and respect can be learned through sports, and recreation contributes to social mobilization, health and education, and community development,” explains Mitchell.

Project Play Africa’s first enterprise was in Niger in 2008 where it distributed 2,000 soccer balls, formed leagues, and developed community organizations. “The positive results keep coming in even after two years,” says Mitchell. “For instance, the kids are cleaning up the environment littered with plastic bags and turning the bags into soccer nets.”


The second mission was to Benin in 2010 with 2,500 soccer balls. Mitchell says the group works closely with the Peace Corps and planned visits to five regions of the country, which he calls a milestone.

Mitchell, who currently lives in Brazil, found strong support in former classmates at De La Salle, such as Rick Suttles, who helps organize fundraisers in California for Project Play Africa, and Mike Balog.

De La Salle High School Union magazine