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Local athletes travel to Tanzania for soccer service trip

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Cameron Pecunies kicks the ball during a 2021 Lone Peak High School soccer game against the Laurel Locomotives. PHOTO BY DAVE PECUNIES

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – At first glance, the towns of Arusha, Tanzania and Big Sky, Montana don’t seem to have much in common. However, upon closer inspection, a unifying thread connects these two vastly different communities: soccer. 

Local nonprofit Gallatin Futbol Foundation will take 18 local players to Arusha on a service trip this summer to run a soccer camp for local children, improve onsite facilities, provide training in partnership with the New Vision Sports Club, and, of course, play soccer. Among these 18 youths is Big Sky’s own Cameron Pecunies, who will join players from across Gallatin Valley, competitors and teammates alike, in this immersive experience. 

New Vision Sports Club, a Youth With a Mission sports ministry, is dedicated to helping local boys develop into men through soccer as well as education, scholarships and job training. 

All players and volunteers will take off on July 10 with most returning two and a half weeks later. 

The aim of the trip is twofold: education and immersion in a collaborative experience that will benefit all parties.

“We’re not going there to change culture, we’re there to experience culture,” said Hunter Terry, co-project director of the Montana Tanzania Exchange, in an April 15 interview.

Cameron, 15, has been playing soccer in Big Sky since his family moved here seven years ago. He has been in club soccer that entire time and recently joined the Lone Peak High School soccer team for his freshman season. He will be the sole Big Sky player joining the trip.

“I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to go out of the country and learn about other places,” he said in a March 21 interview.

His mother, Callie, said that her parents helped found Precious Children’s Home, an orphanage near Arusha, where she hopes the kids will be able to visit while on the trip.

She added that she hopes this trip will expand Cameron’s worldview.

“[This trip is important] because we’re trying to raise money for these kids that don’t have as much as we do,” Cameron said.

Ahead of their departure this summer, Cameron and the other participants are working hard to fundraise, reaching out to family, friends and local businesses for support. Terry called player efforts the “business rush campaign,” adding that the organization just finished with an auction and a raffle and is looking to secure a couple of grants as well.

As of April 15, Terry said the players had raised a little over half of the minimum goal of $90,000. Those funds will buy the devices needed to help build and improve facilities, like the brick press that was recently purchased to fabricate earth bricks that will build the locker room.

This brick press is the first big purchase for New Vision. It will be used to make earth bricks to build the locker room. PHOTO BY NATHAN ROTTIER

“Our culture[s] are different, and I’m excited to learn about them,” Terry said. “But the culture in the game is the same around the world and that’s why the game is such a uniting factor for cultures and communities. Being able to go over there and find incredible common ground with the New Vision soccer players and coaches is going to be incredible.”

Terry and his close friend and former assistant soccer coach, Nathan Rottier, conceived of the exchange in winter of 2019 and were unable to bring it to fruition until now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rottier, who now lives in Arusha and runs a soccer academy, is co-project director with Terry.

As part of the soccer camp, Terry says, the kids will all play in a “Cow Tournament,” in which the winning team brings home a cow, called “pamoja” meaning together in Swahili.

“The one thing that really unites our program with their program is fútbol, soccer,” he said.

Terry hopes that this experience will be just as beneficial for the Montana players as it is for the Tanzania children. 

The best part of soccer, according to Cameron, is getting to play it outside with his friends, which he did a lot growing up in Big Sky.

“I like to play with my friends and kick the ball and make the team effort to win games and have fun,” he said.

No matter where it’s played, the sport of soccer, or fútbol as it’s more commonly known, remains a unifier. 

“They’re growing up, playing soccer, enjoying it playing and just having fun with it,” Cameron said. “And that’s the same thing that we’re doing here.”

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