On the last couple days of our swing through Europe, we spent hours driving through small villages and combing the outskirts of cities in the Czech Republic for kids to give a soccer ball to — all to no avail. Even in the late afternoon and the early evening, when the weather had cooled off and children were definitely out of school, there was no sign of them. Not on the streets, in the parks or on the ubiquitous soccer fields. All we saw were elderly adults and a few women pushing baby strollers. This, of course, was in direct contrast to our travels in Africa and Latin America, where children were everywhere and we could have given out thousands of balls if we had the time and money to do so. For years now, I have read of steadily declining populations in Europe but our thwarted attempts to manage a TWB giveaway really brought the fact home: Europe’s population is graying.

We were frustrated as we headed towards the Prague Airport for our flight home. We had just spent another hour driving around fruitlessly and we were now only a few kilometers from the airport. It looked like we were going home with an empty Czech net. We tried to console ourselves with the fact that we had managed ball giveaways in Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia but the truth was that, except for the Slovakian one where we gave the ball to some Roma (Gypsy) kids who clearly were economically disadvantaged, the other giveaways were to kids who already had balls and seemed pretty indifferent at receiving one from us. There wasn’t a whole lot of joy being spread, which really is the goal of TWB. Perhaps, we told ourselves, TWB really isn’t for whole world as we had initially dreamed and in the future we should just confine our efforts to more economically disadvantaged countries from now on and urge others to do the same.

Which is what made our last-minute score so sweet.   We were only a few kilometers from the airport and going scoreless in the Czech Republic when William and I both had to pee. We spotted a McDonald’s and pulled into the parking lot to use their facilities. And, lo and behold, inside the joint there were three boys in their early teens sitting at a table chowing down their food. I asked if any of them spoke English (I felt I needed to explain what we wanted to do in this particular context —- it would have been too strange for them if we had just handed them a ball in the middle of their meal….) and when they said yes, I asked if they liked soccer. The response was an enthusiastic yes so then I asked if we could give them a ball. Again an enthusiastic response.

And so, at the very last minute, when the clock had just about run out, we scored: GOOOOOOAL CZECH REPUBLIC!!!

This final European goal restored our faith in the universal value of what we’re doing. The three boys — Sebastian, Marek, and Rafik — were delightful. They clearly had the economic means to buy their own balls but they seemed genuinely happy and excited with the unexpected present. Indeed, a few minutes later, when we returned to the area after deciding to eat dinner in a nearby Czech restaurant instead of the airport, we were elated when we spotted them in a nearby field playing with the ball (check out the second video.)

There are three MVPs of this score: Sebastian, Marek and Rafik, for reaffirming the belief that joy can be shared anywhere in the world!

Peace & Blessings,