Football professional Neven Subotic travels with his foundation every year to the north of Ethiopia. With different projects he wants to improve the lives of the local people. The DW has accompanied him on a journey.
Neven Subotic: It did not happen overnight, but it was a long process. In the six or seven years before I founded the foundation, I tried to get involved in many places. The downside is that you can never really go into the depths of the projects. The time is simply missing. My motivation has always been to get involved and to make a tangible contribution to the common good. At the beginning it was difficult to understand what a foundation is or what it is doing. There are many different types and forms, so I thought it would be a good idea to take this step. But with the time I have read more and more and then have also correctly understood, what possibilities this offers. Then the foundation was the next logical step.
Was there a point in your life that has given the impetus to go this step and help other people?
This is primarily due to the way I have been educated. My family has always served all family members and also the people in the community. But then there was war in Bosnia, and my parents came to Germany. There they took not only a job, but several activities – not just to have a wonderful, great life and a lot of money, but to help families affected by the war in Yugoslavia with important goods like medicine and food To stand. And this is something I have always noticed from my parents and friends and acquaintances. Fortunately I did not lose that. It is very firmly anchored in me since I was child.
When I came to Germany to play football at the age of 17, I suddenly had these possibilities. My job has a lot of financial potential, and I wanted to use it.
Your family has shaped you.
Yes, my parents in Germany at that time encountered difficult circumstances. It was hard to find a job, because at that time many refugees had come to Germany. In his small village near Stuttgart, for example, my father went from home to door, asking whether he could make the garden or repair something. Often he was rejected, but if you stay tuned and really convinced, then you find a solution.This is also my experience. This is sometimes a lot of work, but I’m never too bad.
In addition to your family, do you have other role models that you can look at?
Since there are certainly some, and it is difficult to pick a person out. It is really a healthy mix of many personalities. I keep learning about it. When I make new acquaintances, for example, I try to take something from every conversation. I am also glad if someone completely different opinion, because then this is also an enrichment. That is why I am very open to new ideas and perspectives.
This now sounds like a constant process that is going on in you. So it’s always working in you.
The people who know me know: I can not be on the beach, look at the sea and think: You did it! I just have a drive that is permanent. In this way, you are always learning new things, and I am happy to reach new milestones. There are constantly new challenges. At the same time there are processes that are repeated every year on our travels in Ethiopia. Optimizing them and looking at them, where we can work even better, even more accurately and even more effectively – this is simply fun and also welding together. It is my drive to really try to always get the best out of myself, but also from my team, in the years I am in the world.
You are now on the road with your foundation in Ethiopia for the fourth time. How did you develop emotionally? How is the attachment to the local people in the Tigray region?
When we land here, I feel like I’m coming home. This is mainly due to the great people I meet here.
Here I feel really among friends. We all want to live in a better world, and we all have the same goal: we want to create a world for the next generation, for the present children, where they can lead a self-determined and humane life. It is also a wonderful experience, that despite language barriers very much in common. The emotional attachment is then in the form of a great appreciation that results from it.
The villages you visit are located far north of Ethiopia in the rural regions. There are hardly any proper roads, the roads are very cumbersome and often last several hours. Is not that physically and mentally exhausting?
(Grins) I would be worried to spend the whole day at the beach and then hardly move there. The good thing is, I get a massage on the rocky rides and am on the road all day. Sit a bit, drink a coffee, then run again and meet people as well as colleagues from the respective village – I’m not worried.
On the contrary: the experiences we make here are an enrichment and if you have the opportunity to try something new or just keep going all day, it is also good for the body. Where I am, I find it important to push boundaries. I like to try out new things, to say: Okay, this is my limit, then I know that, and then I can realize that. Or I notice: Hey, I thought I could not do it, but I managed it.
There have been times in the past years a situation where you have thought: I stop, that is too strenuous, I swear?
No. I do not know what should come. If something does not work successfully – for example a well can not be drilled – then you look at it, and there is a plan B, which can be used to fix the problem. Then it is solved and something new has been learned. That it is not always easy is clear. But many things are difficult, and I like to accept them. But that I have come to some limit … No. I have not even thought of quitting.
When you arrive in a village, you will be received in an impressive way. How do you feel?
This is always very nice and impressive. In the few hours we are there, we can make small friendships.And above all, it is important to us to know the impact of our projects. Who benefits from the water fountain? What has changed with the sanitary facilities? How are responsibilities shared with the projects on the ground? This is because the children and teachers also play a key role in the realization of the projects. It is nice and also very important to get to know the people more closely, because you also know that the project is in safe and good hands. In addition, it is also an emotionally and personally very fulfilling feeling to talk to the children on site, to play and have a good time. We laugh a lot together and enjoy these moments.
If you hear you talk like this, you might forget that you are also football pros. Projects in Ethiopia and Bundesliga football – how does it work?
The wonderful thing is that football and foundation work hand in hand. For me, both are a fulfillment.One that is not only fun and joy, but also gives my life a wider meaning. Football is fun, and it is a challenge. This is hard work, you will not just be so professional. You always have to go to its limits, especially on a professional level. Every day is a challenge and a joint effort and work with the team colleagues. And I also feel the same atmosphere in the foundation work. And although the work is so different, both parts complement each other. Football has especially a positive effect, namely, that it is also about people. If my team would win on the pitch and there would be no fans, then it would be nice and we would cheer and have fun, but this particular momentum would be missing.
The Neven Subotic Foundation seeks to enable children to have a better future. Through WASH projects (water, sanitation and hygiene), people in the Tigray region in Ethiopia get a safe access to clean water, sanitation facilities and humane hygiene conditions.
As a result, more children are taking part in the classroom because their health is no longer endangered by lack of hygiene. Founder and football professional Neven Subotic travels to Ethiopia once a year to see how the projects work, where challenges lie and where the next projects can be implemented.
The interview was conducted by Thomas Klein and Peter Wozny.