A family walks into Free Kick Soccer, and Alvaro Dos Santos immediately stops assembling a set of light blue soccer uniforms to warmly greet them. He pops his smiling face out of the soccer supply store’s office and asks how he can help. After excitedly presenting them with the uniforms they ordered, Alvaro unexpectedly throws in an extra discount as a gift to the team.
Yet once you know Alvaro and his wife, Deborah, this act of generosity is anything but unexpected. The couple opened Free Kick Soccer in early January to not only support themselves, but also to give to orphans living in their home country of Zimbabwe.
Whether selling soccer supplies to the community of Abilene or meeting basic needs of the people of Zimbabwe, the Dos Santos live to give.
“It’s been our lives to take care of others,” Alvaro says.
The couple has lived in Abilene with two of their four children since 2006. They fled Zimbabwe after being prosecuted for their work with orphans and after heavy government persuasion to leave, Alvaro says.
“They made it unbearable for us to live there,” Alvaro says.
Towards the end of his time in Zimbabwe, Alvaro even spent time in jail for feeding orphans; he says the Zimbabwean government demands that funding for any relief effort go through it.
In the last decade, Zimbabwe has been plagued by food shortages, an erosion of basic services and an economic downturn due to long-running political strife, according to UN News. In 2009, the U.N. also reported 1.2 million people living with HIV in the country, and a third of children under the age of 5 were chronically malnourished. In 2007, UNICEF estimated the total number of children in the country orphaned by AIDS to be around one million.
Despite their hardships, the Dos Santos’ passion for orphans in Zimbabwe has not faltered.
“The price we pay is very little in comparison for what the Lord has done for us,” Alvaro says. “We don’t want to leave those children behind.”
The Dos Santos work as fundraisers and coordinators for Starfish Zimbabwe and were the driving force behind the ministry in 2000. According to their Web site, “Starfish Zimbabwe is dedicated to helping establish sustainability to those people in Africa – especially widows and orphans – particularly in Zimbabwe, who have suffered greatly through disease – political and economic hardship.”
The ministry works to raise money to pay for more than 45,000 meals a month and donate a 40-foot container of basic supplies to Zimbabwe each year. Once a year, the Dos Santos return to their home country for a three-week period to hand out these donations. This year, they will leave July 21.
“They have a passion for the orphans in Zimbabwe,” says John Tyson, ACU vice president of development and Starfish Zimbabwe board member. “They had that when they lived there, and when they moved away, I don’t think they could escape that feeling of responsibility.”
People like the Dos Santos help connect the Abilene community to the needs of the rest of the world, Tyson says.
In Abilene, Alvaro has completed his GED, and Deborah is in her third year as a family studies major at ACU. Alvaro worked at RAB shoes until a friend and Starfish Zimbabwe supporter suggested opening a soccer supply store.
“If the store goes well, it will help us do what we do and do more,” Alvaro says.
Free Kick is located on Ambler Avenue just north of Campus Court in an old, yellow filling station. It is filled with soccer equipment such as cleats, balls and shin guards. The store also customizes team uniforms and sells country flags from all over the world. The Dos Santos are also building a kicking bay behind the store in which customers can practice.
In their last newsletter, Starfish Zimbabwe stated their “attitude is that we will feed one orphan or widow at a time and feed as many as we can find resources to do so.”
In fact, the name Starfish comes from a story about a boy who walks along the beach, throwing dying starfish back into the ocean. When a man tells him his action makes no difference because of the vast number of starfish, the boy replies, “It makes a difference to that starfish.”
Providing just one suffering orphan with food or clothing makes all of their work worth it, Alvaro says.
The Dos Santos do much of the organizing and packing of donations on their own, working on weekends to make sure they have everything for their yearly excursion. It costs anywhere from $13,000 to $17,000 each year to ship one container to Zimbabwe, Alvaro says.
The family invites anyone who is interested in helping to contact Alvaro and Deborah at email@example.com. Free Kick Soccer is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.