Haiti soccer team’s first match on the opening day of Special Olympics World Games was painful to watch – and spectators decided not to stand for it.
When the players took the field at UCLA’s Drake Stadium, for the game meant to determine their level of competition in the elimination rounds, something was immediately clear to the spectators: Haitian team did not have the required gear.
Instead of uniforms, they were all dressed in plain white T-shirts and mismatched shorts. More importantly, they didn’t even have cleats, which made it pretty hard for them to run on the grass without slipping and falling.
“I looked around and everyone either had tears in their eyes or they were looking away because they didn’t want to watch this,” spectator and former college soccer captain Jenifher Albeno told ESPN. “Who cares about jerseys – as a soccer player, cleats are your most valuable possession.”
After Haitian players began tripping, Albeno got in front of the bleachers and asked the crowd for donations. She hoped people would offer some money, but just in few minutes she was holding more than $700.
With the help of Vanessa Kromer, vice president for a local concert promotions company, and a 15-year-old named Mia, Albeno was able to raise enough funds to buy equipment from a local sporting goods store. They also had help from UCLA residence life coordinator JonJon Junpradub, who found shirts, water bottles and bags to donate.
As it turns out, the Haitian team did have their uniforms, but they were sent to USC instead of UCLA.
However, when the kind spectators, who had no ties to either team, presented the players with their purchases, their faces lit up.
“They just kept saying, 'Thank you,' and I remember seeing them run out with their cleats not even fully on,” Mia said. “They were just running, so excited. It got to all of us.”
Although the team lost their next Special Olympics game, the compassion shown by these strangers proves the fact that there are kind people in all parts of the world.
“I saw the joy, I saw the happiness in their eyes,” said coach Bony Georges. “It was a moment for them to share with those people, and get to know them. Even though they didn’t have something to give back, they were sharing their smiles and their appreciation.”