Mission Accomplished: One World Futbol Caravan 2013 makes final stops in Phitsanulok and Chiang Rai
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Mission Accomplished: One World Futbol Caravan 2013 makes final stops in Phitsanulok and Chiang Rai

PHITSANULOK, CHIANG RAI, JUNE 04 2013 - Chevrolet and One World Futbol Project have completed their mission to travel to the far reaches of Thailand, giving away super-durable, self-inflating footballs to needy children.

Since January, a fleet of Chevrolet Trailblazers loaded with specially designed One World Futbols has journeyed all over the kingdom, making stops in Ranong, Phuket, Hat Yai, Khon Kaen, Nong Khai and Chantaburi. The fourth and final caravan departed from Bangkok last week, setting out for the Northern provinces of Phitsanulok and Chiang Rai.

The first stop on the caravan’s itinerary was Ban Dong Community School, located in a remote, picturesque region of Phitsanulok province, not far from the Thailand-Laos border, where Chevrolet made a donation of 300 One World Futbols.

Ban Dong School is far off the beaten path, serving humble farming communities that grow rice, rubber, soybeans and other crops. More than 250 students, aged 4-15 years old, are educated here. Rolling green fields stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s a picturesque region, but beneath the tranquil surface, poverty looms large in villagers’ lives. A few tattered, grey footballs with loose patches flapping in the breeze, lay in puddles next to an overgrown soccer pitch.

Drug traffickers are active in this area, smuggling heroin and methamphetamine across the rugged, mountainous border. School officials expressed their concern about prevalence of the drug trade here, and the negative effect of illegal narcotics can have on local youth. Ban Dong School Director Somrit Jamnongsri said he was hopeful that by increasing opportunities for local children to participate in sports, more kids would steer clear of the pitfalls of drug trafficking or abuse.

“Our school has a vigorous anti-drug program. It’s a close-knit community: if we see a student having problems we try to intervene. We make home visits to check on at-risk students,” Somrit said. “With the donation of these footballs, more students will spend time playing here, even students who’ve graduated already. This will keep them away from drugs and other bad influences.”

The owner of Chevrolet Phitsanulok, Phitsanu Polwai, said that the Ban Dong community was often overlooked in regional aid efforts.

“People in this area live close to nature. They don’t have money, but they have rich culture and traditions,” he said. “I have never been here before. I have met with the tambon chief and the school director. They need help, and I will try to lend a hand in the future.”

A group of four Hmong girls from Ban Rom Klao, a hill tribe village located on a disputed stretch of the Thai-Lao border 75 km away, were brought to meet the One World Futbol caravan by their teacher, Kullyapat Suksabai. He explained that the village school does not have what it needs to provide a quality modern education: “We have no computers, no projectors, no sports equipment.”

Kullyapat said there are 600 students in Ban Rom Klao, but they don’t have a single football to play with. The girls – Piyatida, Thanyarat, Juktarat and Kanmanee – were each given a One World Futbol to take back home to their struggling community.

After spreading the power of play in Phitsanulok, the One World futbol caravan struck off for SOS Children’s Village in Chiang Rai.

A large crowd had turned up for the One World Futbol Caravan 2013 grand finale, with dozens of cars parked along the roadside next to the SOS Village.

General Motors Senior Public Relations Manager for Southeast Asia, Vijo Varghese, told the audience that Chevrolet is passionate about helping children throughout the region.

“OWF is a worldwide campaign that I am very proud to be a part of. This is a special journey that we hope will improve the lives of children in Thailand and all over southeast Asia,” Varghese said. “Football can help children forget about their worries and focus on having fun and just being a kid. It’s a small way to make the world a better place, one football at a time.”

SOS Children’s Village Chiang Rai is run by Parinya Raweesri , a former pastor who has dedicated his life to caring for children who’ve lost their parents. He is responsible for providing a loving home to the 140 children who live at the Chiang Rai SOS Village, ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old.

“Most of the children here lost their parents to HIV. About 10 years ago, the virus spread all over Nothern Thailand,” the SOS Village director explained. “Others have seen their parents arrested and sentenced to harsh prison sentences of 20, 30, even 50 years for drug trafficking. Around 60-70% of the children here are from ethnic Hmong hill tribes.”

Parinya said his goal is to give the orphaned children the best education possible, so they can graduate university and become self-sufficient, well-adjusted members of the community. It’s not an easy task.

“It’s hard to find staff who really want to stay with the children and care for them 24 hours a day. They have to make many sacrifices. We want to give the children more than just food and a place to stay. We really try to give them a new family where they can feel secure ,” said the former pastor. “When we accept a child here we must try to restore their lives, physically and spiritually. Often they have been traumatized. Many don’t understand what has happened to their parents, and what will happen to their lives now that they are gone.”

Chevrolet Chiang Rai President Phacha Rungphetvipavadee, who was in attendance to support the One World Futbol caravan, brought along additional donations of volleyballs, badminton raquets, sports uniforms, food, school books and supplies. “Sports provide a good opportunity for children to develop themselves physically and emotionally,” he said.