By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Samba 360 is a New York-based NGO whose mission is to distribute sporting equipment to disadvantaged children throughout the world. Founded in 2013 by American expatriate Shawn Brown after he handed an old soccer ball to a local Carioca boy, the charity has a special connection with Rio de Janeiro, where Brown hopes to continue improving the lives of the city’s many underprivileged youngsters.
“Samba 360 is an all-volunteer organization which started in November 2013.” Brown explains. “Our mission is collecting new and gently used sports gear for disadvantaged children and getting the gear distributed to those in need.”
Since starting in 2013, the NGO has been busy fulfilling its mission, distributing sports gear to Argentina, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Columbia, Ecuador and to various inner-cities schools and orphanages in the United States, as well as various locations throughout Brazil.
However it was in Rio that the germ of the idea came to Brown, who is married to a Carioca and often visits family in the Cidade Maravilhosa. “I recall once playing soccer on the beach with a few local children, and when we were done I gave the soccer ball to one of the boys.” he says.
“I’ll never forget the boy’s joy in receiving the soccer ball. His expression was priceless. He could not believe I was giving him the ball to keep. It was his and he seemed more than ecstatic.” He continues, “Coming from the United States, where we have a lot of wealth and resources, I knew I could do more to help level the playing field.”
While the primary mission of Samba 360 is to provide disadvantaged children from South to North America with opportunities by providing them with donated sports equipment, Brown adds, “Samba 360 remains a Brazil-centric charity because of the economic disparity that exists in Brazil.”
Despite the struggle that many NGOs face to acquire funding, and the uncertain outlook for the city’s favela communities now that hard-right governor Wilson Witzel is in charge, Brown remains optimistic for what Samba 360 can do in 2019.
“Last week we donated 15 tennis rackets to a tennis coach who resides in the Rocinha community. He coaches children in Rocinha how to play tennis.” Brown explains. “In 2019 we hope to provide him with more tennis rackets and tennis sneakers, as we believe the next Serena Williams or Rafael Nadel may come from the Rocinha community.”
Samba 360 is entirely volunteer-run, and they are always looking for people to lend a hand, whether in the United States or Brazil. Brown explains, “Samba 360 has dozens of volunteers who donated their time to help with the website, Facebook page, collections, classes, and fundraising. We all love sports and want to give back to those children that sadly don’t have the same access that we had as children.”
He continues, “We are always looking for more people to help us get our message out and to help us accomplish our goal by leveling the playing field for children who come from poorer backgrounds. We look for responsible, dedicated volunteers who have a sincere interest in helping children.”
To those who wish to contribute, Brown encourages them to get in contact via the charity’s facebook page, twitter, or instagram. Even carrying a few deflated soccer balls along with the usual holiday items can make a difference, he adds. “If anyone is visiting New York and would like to bring a few deflated soccer balls back to Rio for disadvantaged children, please contact us.”