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The spirit of soccer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There may not be an obvious link between soccer and spirit, but two George Washington High School student-athletes are hoping to build that bridge in December when they travel to Africa for a mission trip.

Micah Pauley, a junior, and Riley Santen, a freshman, will be two of 11 people serving as support staff at a soccer camp run by Young Life Africa -- a Christian organization dedicated to helping African youth develop a sense of faith, according to the Young Life Africa website.

There's just one thing: the camp has only three soccer balls for its 350 campers and none of the campers have cleats, Pauley said. He and Santen are seeking soccer gear donations to take to the camp, which is just outside of Nairobi.

The two students, who attend River Ridge Church in Charleston and are part of Young Life at GW, have set a high goal for themselves. The two want to send 500 soccer balls and 5,000 pairs of cleats to the camp, which would then be distributed to other Young Life Africa camps throughout the country.

They have already received 15 balls and 28 pairs of cleats from their teammates at GW, Pauley said.

The intrepid students are no strangers to other countries. Pauley lived in China for a year with his family, and Santen has visited Kenya to go on a safari -- a trip to view east African wildlife.

Pauley said his time in China "struck a nerve."

"From living here in Charleston in America, thinking I was just going to go through life living the American dream," Pauley said. "In China, it was like there was a whole other world out there."

Since then, Pauley has been itching to get to Kenya, a journey that members of the church have taken for the past three years.

Santen said his experience in Kenya, though recreational, had a strong impact on his desire to do mission work there.

"I saw the poverty and all the kids and how little they had," he said. "I want to touch them so they can realize there is a bigger picture, and they can have a great life."

The church group won't be working with campers on their soccer skills, but rather they will act as support staff, an atypical situation for white people in Kenya, Pauley said.

"We were talking to some people from Kenya a couple days ago, and they said it was just amazing to see white people come in and serve them," Pauley said. "They're so used to white people coming into Kenya and wanting to be served."

This kind of role reversal is something both students are looking forward to, as they are eager to gain a new perspective on life.

"I want to come out of it with a different idea of Africa," said Pauley, who hopes to be a missionary someday. "I want to know what I can do to help them more, even when I'm over here."

"[I want] to be thankful for everything we have, because what we think our problems can be are tiny compared to what they have," Santen said.

Pastor Matt Santen, the trip leader and Riley's father, said the relationship between Americans and Africans is beneficial for both groups. While the traveling group will provide resources in the form of staff, equipment and money, they will take away lessons in return, he said.

"[Africans] help us in terms of our world view and understanding poverty, understanding the value of relationships," Santen said.

Micah and Riley will set out for their 11-day trip on Dec. 26. Prior to their departure, they are looking for donations of not only balls and shoes, but also shin guards, referee jerseys and other new or gently used soccer equipment.

They will also need funds to either ship the donations to Kenya or pay for extra luggage if they travel with the items.

Those interested in donating to the cause can email stonerunner16@gmail.com or call 304-881-1013. Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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