Comm Class Exercise Generates Soccer Balls for African Children

Posted: August 11, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nick Walker

Communication Professor Melinda Villagran has come up with a unique way of helping children halfway across the world while teaching her students about working in teams.

This was done through Villagran’s Organizational Communication Class, also known as Comm 335.

“One of the major objectives of organizational communication is to explore theory and skills related to working in teams,” Villagran says.

“In the past, I have always done team-building exercises, but this time my students expressed interest in working on a project related to our troops.”

Several of her students knew that her husband is a public affairs officer with the U.S. Marine Corps and would ask her about his work.

Maj. Paul Villagran is currently deployed as part of the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa (CJTF HoA).

“Paul noticed that at some of the medical events the doctors come out and hundreds of people are waiting in line,” his wife says. “The kids have nothing. They just stand and wait. So we were thinking, with my class, we could donate something for the kids.

“This was not something I required, but an optional opportunity that the students elected to undertake,” she adds. “Comm 335 is a team-based class, so I put out a challenge to each team.”

Each team was tasked to collect 25 soccer balls, for a total of 125 balls. The catch was that the students couldn’t spend any of their own money.

“Here, soccer is number one,” says Paul Villagran, speaking from his base in Djibouti. “It has a significant space in the culture here, and all they need to play is a ball. They don’t have a whole lot else.”

“My students got really creative,” says the professor. “One student involved a local kid’s soccer team, and another created a Facebook group. A lot of Mason students grew up playing soccer and still had old soccer balls out in the garage they could deflate and ship to Africa.

“It just grew and grew, and in the end we had 280 soccer balls.”

Some of the teams also donated soccer shoes, socks, jerseys and pads. Patricia Ellison, one of Villagran’s students, used a family connection to obtain some of this additional equipment.

“My nephew, Keith Collins, coaches soccer and is heavily involved in soccer leagues for kids,” Ellison says. “Keith and his many soccer buddies were more than willing to donate all sorts of soccer equipment, and we gratefully took all donations. Keith and I were more than happy for this opportunity to contribute to the troops and these kids. It was our privilege to help out.”

Professor Villagran paid the cost of shipping herself, but she needed only to send the equipment to Norfolk; the military handled the remainder of the shipping.

“The efforts of my students are directly and immediately impacting the lives of these kids in Africa, and I think it is fantastic,” she says.

“After the exercise, the students wrote a reflection about their own communication strengths and weaknesses in their team. The goal was to explore communication as a tool for mobilization, activation and coordination of teams.”

Paul Villagran says the Marines have distributed the soccer balls to kids throughout the Horn of Africa, in Northern Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti.

“The reception is tremendous, the kids love having them, and we never have enough. Some of the Marines here have set up soccer tournaments for kids.

“To the students back at Mason, even though they didn’t get to see the impact, it was huge for the kids,” he says. “Any time I get soccer balls here, my unit of Marines can’t wait to take them into town the next day. It’s a great opportunity to meet the community. Even if it’s just a slight difference in their lives, it’s something to be a part of.”

Photos from CJTF HoA may be found online.

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