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Federal Way Woman Strikes Unique Connection Between Malawi, Seattle Through Soccer
Soccer? Until a couple years ago, Paula Griffin had never even seen it played.
But, after visiting Malawi on a church mission six years ago and having had the game brought into her life by four orphan boys — whom she has since adopted — Griffin has become as passionate about the game as they are. And this past summer, with the help of Washington Youth Soccer, Griffin brought some of the game back to that southeast African country that has given so much to her.
In coordination with Washington Youth Soccer, the Federal Way resident brought numerous balls, jerseys and pairs of cleats — all of which were donated -- to youngsters in a country where challenges run the full gamut, from economics to life expectancy.
"When I delivered all of the balls and gear, I became very popular," Griffin said with a laugh. "Everyone there plays soccer. From the time you can walk, you start playing soccer — nothing organized, just play and kick the ball around. They have their own games among themselves. They make their balls out of plastics.
"They’ve always been playing."
Suffice to say, Griffin took the long road toward becoming a soccer fan — a road that led all the way to another country on another continent.
The 42-year-old Griffin first met her sons-to-be while visiting Malawi on a church mission six years ago. At the time, she knew next to nothing about soccer; now, thanks to their never-ending passion for the game, she now can carry on a conversation about some of soccer's finer points. She isn’t shy about standing up for her favorite side when said conversation turns toward the Manchester United-Chelsea rivalry. (She’s all about the Blues.)
She even knows how most of her Saturdays are going to be spent.
"I’m the ultimate soccer mom now — I know what that means," Griffin said. "I drive them everywhere."
Griffin lived four years (2004-08) in Malawi as a missionary through her church, The Church by the Side of the Road in Tukwila. She was in Nsanie, "one of the poorest areas of Malawi — even local Malawis don’t go down there, that’s how poor it is," she said. Griffin also worked in Blantyre.
During those four years she was in the country, Griffin helped start a family center for orphans. That’s where Yona (now 17), Moses (15), Joseph (13) and Yohane (10) came into her picture.
"I decided I wanted to adopt them," she said. "And they played soccer."
Moses, Joseph and Yohane still play, suiting up for the Federal Way Storm (Storm 99, Storm 97 and Storm 94). Yohane and Joseph, who came back to the U.S. with Griffin in July 2008, both have been to a Seattle Sounders FC game. In fact, Joseph even did the coin toss at a game last year.
Griffin, who works as residential coordinator for a local mental health firm, was back in Malawi this past summer. On the way over, she brought the donated soccer gear. On the way back, she brought the two older boys (Yona and Moses) to join their younger brothers.
Griffin plans to return there periodically, not only with the boys, but quite possibly with some more soccer equipment, too.
"We’ll go back to do some short-term mission work, but it’ll probably be another year or two," Griffin said. "I really wanted to come back to Washington and raise the boys here.
"And I’m kind of glad I did when it came to soccer," she added, "because it’s very popular out here."
For more information on community efforts being made in partnership with Washington Youth Soccer’s Soccer Across Washington program, click the "Programs" tab on WashingtonYouthSoccer.org.
Washington Youth Soccer • 500 S. 336th St. Suite 100 • Federal Way, WA 98003
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