When he arrived in February in Likoni, a village of 100,000 people outside of Mombasa, Kenya, Ben Levey only knew how to count to 10 and say "hello" in Swahili.

When he arrived in February in Likoni, a village of 100,000 people outside of Mombasa, Kenya, Ben Levey only knew how to count to 10 and say "hello" in Swahili.

But the 2006 Bexley High School graduate quickly found a way to communicate with the children in the village by playing soccer.

"The passion for soccer over there is incredible. I have never seen anything like it before," said Levey, who played for the Lions' 2003 and 2005 Division II state championship teams. "It was an easy way to connect with the kids.

"Passing the ball back and forth was so natural. There's some sort of connection there. You feel like you're friends all of a sudden."

While serving as a volunteer with Hatua Likoni, a community-based, non-government organization trying to alleviate poverty and promote education among the community's youth, Levey became chairman of the Likoni Community Football League.

The initial plan was to create a 14-team league, but the LCFL quickly grew to 20, 28 and then 30 teams.

"Once coaches over there saw that I was serious and they saw the goalposts going up, they wanted to get involved," Levey said. "I wanted to keep it small because I wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly, but it grew to 600 kids before I knew it. It was hard to turn down anyone who wanted to be part of the league."

Bexley boys soccer coach Greg Kullman said he's not surprised that Levey's idea grew so quickly.

"Even as a sophomore on the 2003 team, Ben was a natural leader," said Kullman, who was an assistant coach on that team. "He's a hard worker and he gets those people around him to work together.

"Ben worked with our freshman coach last year and we were hoping to have him back this season, but he's decided the work he's doing in Kenya is much needed. I couldn't argue with him."

Levey got involved with Hatua Likoni as a way of giving back. Hatua means "step forward" in Swahili, according to the organization's website, www.hatualikoni.org.

"At the end of my senior year at the University of Wisconsin, I decided I wanted to do something completely different," Levey said. "I wanted to go to a foreign country and volunteer to do something before I started grad school."

Levey, who graduated from Wisconsin in spring 2010 with a degree in biology, planned to begin pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh in August, but he has pushed that back to next June.

Levey, who returned from Kenya on May 15, said he plans to go back on Aug. 18 and will be there for at least three months, although he might extend that.

Levey said was taken aback by the poverty he saw in Kenya, which is located on Africa's eastern coast. On the soccer field, many children would tie together trash bags and wrap them into a ball.

"After growing up in Bexley, I realized I lived in a bubble. My friends who aren't from here call Bexley 'Pleasantville,'" Levey said. "Sometimes when I was coaching, I would have to step back and say, 'Look at where you are. Look at the houses around you. Look at the environment you are in.'

"I was amazed by the amount of poverty over there, but because of the friendliness of the people, they didn't seem that different from me."

Interest in the LCFL grew quickly in an area that offers little extracurricular activities for youth. However, creating fields and organizing the league took longer than Levey anticipated.

"Everything in Kenya runs a lot slower than the USA. After the first week there, I realized I could only pick one thing to do each day," Levey said. "Something that would take 15 to 30 minutes here takes three to six hours over there for some reason.

"The happiest moment (of my time in Kenya) was probably the first day the league started. I was sitting there watching the U-12 teams play. This kid scored and he was mobbed in the corner by his teammates and they were imitating the things they've seen from (England's) Wayne Rooney and all the other soccer stars. It kind of brought of tears to my eyes. That made all the hard work worth it."