Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Youth sports in general promote discipline, fitness, teamwork and most importantly, fun. Soccer specifically has the added dimension of being a world-wide sport, which connects its players to a broad spectrum of cultures, languages and traditions. Whether you’re lucky enough to travel overseas and play soccer or watch it on TV, you can connect immediately to a country through the experience of soccer. The power of soccer has channeled into country, continent and world competitions, bringing together both players and fans to celebrate the game. Soccer is being used in a more significant capacity. Several organizations around the world are using soccer as a tool to empower the youth of countries where there has been political and economic upheaval. Most of these groups run on a shoe-string budget and depend on the monetary and equipment donations from fellow soccer players around the world.
In Cambodia, the Salt Academy uses soccer to help eradicate human trafficking by bringing young girls into soccer leagues where they can be protected. The Salt Academy also helps them become strong, exceptional athletes with the self-esteem to resist the lure of recruiters. This Mighty Girls program has expanded into three border provinces in Cambodia. The girls play in leagues similar to those our own kids join with designations of U12 and up. Recently their U15 girls’ team won the first Cambodian National Tournament, and their U14 team won an International Tournament. In addition to the football training, the academy promotes high educational standards in hope of graduating many of the girls on to a university.
Project Congo takes girls from the dangerous and impoverished villages in the center of warfare and tribal traditions, which subjugate and terrorize women. The project seeks to educate girls so they can graduate high school, something only a small percentage of females accomplish in the Congo. It uses soccer to build self-esteem and will power, giving the girls tools to move ahead socially and educationally in an independent manner. The project seeks sister teams in the US to help sponsor and support the teams in the Congo. Soccer creates this connection between two cultures that normally have no connection. Sponsoring a team can offer a US girls’ team a fantastic opportunity to learn their own lessons in altruism and social awareness.
The Give N Go Project provides soccer equipment to orphanages around the world. According to their website, there are 143 million abandoned children in the world. Since soccer is the most popular sport in the world, the organization can connect with these children through the sport. They provide reconditioned used gear, new gear and clinics for orphanages and occasionally for foster children in the United States. They use the clinics to impact these children’s lives to strive for excellence in all they do. They encourage the kids to work as hard in the classroom as they do on the pitch. They also want the children to develop pride through the ownership of their own soccer equipment and through success in soccer.
Grassroots Soccer takes a different approach to using soccer. The idea behind the program is to teach African kids about HIV/AIDS through various soccer drills. The goal is to reduce the incidence of the disease in Africa by helping kids understand how it can be contracted and how to avoid it. As Michelle Obama said about the program "The solution lies within us. . .and soccer is the hook." Presently it operates in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, with satellite programs in Ethiopia, Kenya and even Guatemala to name just a few. The program was founded by former soccer players, Dr. Tommy Clark and Ethan Zohn, who both played professionally in Zimbabwe. When they saw the devastation of AIDS in that country, they decided that they could use soccer as the means to educate and stem the course of the disease.
Soccer Without Borders in Granada, Nicaragua works with girls ages 7 – 19 to develop recreational opportunities equal to those available to their male peers, and to offer strong support which the girls might not find in their community. Recently the program expanded to Uganda (soccerwithoutborders.org/Uganda). There it works with both refugee and national youth to train them in soccer. Since Uganda has opened its borders to those displaced from the Horn of Africa and Sudan due to economic and political problems, the border villages have huge refugee populations, which face language and religious barriers, but most importantly have lost educational opportunities. The SWB program attempts to provide these opportunities to both refugees and nationals as well as offer soccer training at least twice a week to give the kids some fun and some discipline that they can carry over into the classroom. The main campus is in the capitol Kampala, from which teams go to the borders to conduct clinics and support schools in the area. The agency also works in Oakland, Calif. to provide the same type of support for recently arrived refugee and immigrant youth. Since soccer carries great importance in the lives of these immigrants, it is a means to bring youth together in a safe environment and develop skills both on and off the field to help them assimilate into the US on the field, and in the classroom.
These groups are just the tip of the iceberg of programs using soccer to connect with youth and to help them build a future. As Give N Go states on its mission page, "the childhood you have determines the adult you will be." Therefore using soccer as the hook to draw in young people these agencies can build on the skills, pride and love they have in soccer to translate into the same things for education, self-esteem and self-discipline. Soccer is being used to protect young women from sexual abuse, to teach young people to avoid AIDS and to become stronger students. The language of soccer translates into everyday life. The same discipline you need to develop a particular soccer move can be used to learn the times table. The joy you bring to the sport can be brought to appreciating literature. Even more importantly, we can join with our fellow soccer brothers and sisters in making these dreams come true through our donations both in equipment and monetary or by adopting a team to support financially and vocally with letters and videos. Soccer can be a bridge to the rest of the globe.