GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When News 8 first introduced you to Liberian immigrant John Waller, the professional soccer player journeyed home for the first time since his adoption 16 years ago to help make a difference in the country where he grew up.
He managed to feed hundreds of orphans as well as provide school supplies and soccer equipment to many of them.
To understand what drives Waller to do this, often with money out of his own pocket, you would have to meet the woman who helped him and gave him a chance of his own.
“I decided to bring this boy who was very malnourished, very thin, dirty, you know, he didn’t have anything. So, I brought him to my orphanage, we cleaned him up and gave him something to eat. He slept for two solid days after we fed him, bathed him, got him some new clothes and he ate as if he had never eaten before,” Patty Anglin, founder of Acres of Hope said. “I got really close to John and I could see that spark in him. That determination and I loved him right from the start and our relationship has never broken.”
Before he was adopted by the Waller family in Whitehall, he was brought in, sheltered, fed and taught by Anglin. She is an activist in Liberia who Liberians affectionately call momma or grandma.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling that if you give a child an opportunity, they just grow like flowers. You water that flower and you see how it just grows. So now it’s time for him to give back a little.” Anglin said. “If you can make the difference to just one life, you’ve accomplished, right?”
It’s thanks in part to the love and difference she made in Waller’s life that he has decided to do the same for others. In large part by refurbishing a well in the capital city of Monrovia before he left Liberia for the U.S. to prepare for his upcoming soccer season with Atlantic City Football Club.
“I’m proud to say I’m American-Liberian. I’m proud to see that we’re taking strides to be united,” Waller said. “2021, it’s going to be my year. I believe I’m going to sign a big contract because right now my agent is talking to a few other bigger teams, so I’ll be able to sign a bigger contract — maybe even for the Liberian national team.”
He accomplished one of his goals he hoped to before returning to the U.S.
“Because of the people who donated, I was able to raise almost $1,000 to be able to help the kids in Liberia,” said Waller.
Through his GoFundMe page, Waller refurbished an old well that is now providing clean water to thousands.
“The thing people don’t understand is people drink the water, people drink in Liberia it’s not safe. It’s un-sanitized,” Waller said. “By me building a well, it gives them safe drinking water because the pump on the well provides purified water. Once the water comes out, it filters the water out, make it safer for them to drink that water.”
Waller’s dreams are not yet finished. He wants to continue his work in Liberia by building wells where there are none. It’s an effort shared by Anglin.
“Acres of Hope has put in over 20 wells over the years. There is never enough. Village after village, they have no water,” Anglin said. “Our poverty is their wealth. We don’t understand poverty the same way. When you don’t have water, clean water and you have to go to a stream where people are bathing, where people are defecating by the streams or in the streams, washing their clothes and you have to drink that same water — it’s a lifesaving opportunity to put wells in.”
The friendship that Anglin and Waller share has in turn blessed countless Liberian lives. Anglin says Waller is a hero.
“The joy and admiration I felt for this young man who came from nothing but chaos, in his early life, to manage to work through with some struggles but work through that and become the man he is today with the heart for giving like he does has been exhilarating for me,” Anglin said. “He’s like my poster child.”
A man once a child without hope like many other Liberians is now providing exactly that — hope, food, school supplies and hopefully more water.
“They don’t even have food at the orphanages. Most of these kids are hungry all the time then they have to go to school and then after school they’re wondering what they’re going to eat. Life is just… life in Liberia and then especially living in the orphanage in Liberia is basically living in despair. There’s no hope for these kids, but I always tell them believe, have faith in yourself then have faith in God,” Waller said. “That’s why when I donated what I did it meant so much to them because I know struggle those kids are going through and they depend on donations. Without donations, they can’t survive. Hopefully I might be able to go back to Liberia sooner than 16 years because the story doesn’t end here. We’re going to keep going and keep going.”
Waller’s GoFundMe page to help fund the creation of more wells is still active.
You can also donate to Anglin’s orphanage, Acres of Hope, which is a nonprofit 501C organization that is tax deductible. Specify “For Water Projects” when donating.
Each well costs around $500 to $600 to be built or refurbished, according to Waller.