Soccer Without Borders is teaming up with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (“ECA”) SportsUnited Division this summer for the second phase of the Inter-American Women’s Soccer Exchange (“Exchange”). In February, a team of recently graduated U.S. Women’s NCAA soccer players headed to Central America for the first phase of a two-way exchange between Nicaragua and the United States. Players and coaches traveled to three Nicaraguan cities, leading a series of skills and coaching clinics, as well as competing in two showcase games against the Nicaraguan U-20 Women’s National Team. As a part of the ECA SportsUnited Grants Program, the second phase will bring Nicaraguan coaches and leaders to the U.S.. This Exchange builds off of the relationships formed throughout our five years of program-building in Granada, and during phase one, to empower coaches and national advocates of girls’ soccer in Nicaragua.
In partnership with Soccer Without Borders Boston and with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, phase two of the Exchange kicks off on June 19th in Boston, MA. The Exchange participants are an impressive group of coaches, players, and leaders hailing from all levels of Nicaraguan girls’ and women’s soccer. With representatives from public schools, SWB Nicaragua, FENIFUT, and the Nicaraguan Women’s National Team, Exchange participants are well-positioned to make a significant impact on the future of girls’ soccer in their home country.
This phase will expose the Nicaraguan coaches to multiple aspects of American culture and sports infrastructure, including the American university system and collegiate sports at Dartmouth College, recreational youth sports at camps run by Challenger Sports and MTW Coast Soccer, a sports-based youth development program at SWB Boston, and professional women’s soccer at a Boston Breakers practice and game. Throughout their time in the US, participants will learn key skills in facilitation, coaching, technology, and program design. They will also design an action plan to take home, implementing their ideas to expand and strengthen their local organizations and promote the growth of girls’ soccer in Nicaragua.
Follow the Exchange on Facebook or read more on the website!
More about the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ SportsUnited Division: The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ SportsUnited Division leads the U.S. Department of State’s international exchange efforts to bring the global community together through sports. Under its International Sports Programming Initiative, public and private U.S. based non-profit organizations may submit proposals to address one of four themes: Youth Sports Engagement, Sport for Social Change, Sport and Disability, and Sport and Health. Since 2002, the division has awarded 86 grants to U.S. non-profits to conduct programs in 57 countries around the world.
To celebrate the program's five year anniversary, the coaches had organized an activity called "Past, Present, and Future", with each floor of the FSF oficina representing one of those points in time. For the past, a video highlight reel and photo timeline, with each girl asked to sign the timeline at the point she came into FSF, and caption her favorite photos. For the present, a chance to snap a photo and write a letter for a time capsule, capturing the current moment to look back on in another five years. For the future, a mosaic of dreams for the program, with each girl asked to imagine her ideal Futbol Sin Fronteras in 2018 and contribute a square. As if the sheer artistry weren't enough, the imagination and dreaming was overwhelming as the girls showed off their depictions of FSF in the future.
The art was beautiful; there were elaborate drawings of the world with players from all over holding hands and donning FSF uniforms. There were captions: "I've graduated school" "I'm attending university" with pictures of pencils, teachers, schools. There were drawings of the National Stadium, with our Mariposa team in the starting lineup. More common than anything else, though, there were representations of team, with full hearts and hands linked, revealing the shared hope that this common bond will still be here for the girls in five, ten, twenty years. Love and friendship- born in a safe space where a girl is free to be herself, to become herself- are the foundations on which the rest is built.
One of the reasons I was drawn to Soccer Without Borders in the first place was its commitment to authenticity: honoring the value and voice of local stakeholders to shape the direction of the program. As one of SWB's three core values, my understanding of authenticity has evolved tremendously over the last five years as we have worked alongside the community of Granada to build this program. I've learned that creating a program that authentically addresses the most pressing needs of the community is not as simple as providing resources and materials, training local leaders, and stepping aside to see if change grows out of the norm. Authenticity is neither stepping aside nor standing behind, it is a lengthy process of evaluating strengths and weaknesses, hopes and challenges, and working together to have them align: an authentic collaboration.
Addressing longstanding challenges to forge new paths requires an authentic collaboration of stakeholders with different ideas, talents, backgrounds, resources, and understanding. Parents, city leaders, coaches, teachers, artists, researchers, men, women...and most importantly the girls themselves provide critical input as to how to work within the cultural system respectfully yet open the door to new opportunities. As with any collaboration, maneuvering through language, experience, opinion, ego, belief systems, and stereotypes from all sides can easily derail the process. To have reached this milestone of five years, and to see the mosaic of dreams for FSF that the girls created, says that this collaboration is one that the girls, the coaches, and the community have embraced.
Together, we are ready to bring that mosaic to life during the next five years. Thank you for your part in supporting FSF to forge these paths in the community of Granada and beyond.
ps. The Anniversary celebration was preceded by the Inter-American Women's Soccer Exchange, a State Department sponsored initiative that is looking to expand our work beyond Granada. Check out the links to read about the trip!
Before the girls of SWB Granada headed into the holiday season and school break with their families, we had the chance to host one of the most unifying, girls-specific events to-date.
One hundred and six girls, their parents, coaches, referees, and other community members gathered together for the fourth annual "Global Peace Games", or Copa de Paz as it is called in Nicaragua. The Global Peace Games are an opportunity for young people all over the world to articulate their commitment to doing their part in achieving the UN's Millenium Development goals. More simply, it is a tournament that symbolizes coming together across differences in support of peace. The signature event of the Global Peace Games is the reading of a letter from the United Nations followed by the signing of the Manifesto for Peace. By signing, players pledge to "respect all life, reject all violence, share with others, listen to understand, preserve the planet, and contribute to the development of community."
This event has ranked among the most special of SWB Granada events each year, yet in the past it has proved nearly impossible to organize the event solely for girls. Boys teams always fill in the holes, so that our girls can have opponents. We were determined for this year to be different. Throughout 2012, we had tripled our efforts to engage girls in schools through gym classes, and had developed strong relationships with a few schools. As the Global Peace Games drew near, we extended invitations to gym teachers at a few of those schools to organize and train a girls' team to play in the 2012 Peace Games. To our great surprise and fortune, a few of the invitations were accepted, allowing our SWB Granada participants the opportunity to compete against age and gender appropriate teams.
The four invited teams assembled next to the eight SWB Granada teams early the morning of the tournamnet, a short ways away from the playing fields. Clusters of brightly colored jerseys collectively jittered with excitement as the tournament grew near. As coaches prepared their teams to parade to the fields, the smattering of color shifted into organized lines. It was moving to see the girls proudly donning their respective jerseys and it was clear that the girls sensed a strong camaraderie within their teams. With no further instruction from their coaches, the lines moved forward towards the fields. As they did, the girls at the front of the line linked hands with their friends on opposing teams. The spontaneous and symbolic extension of friendship was strong and beautiful, just like the girls. That powerful moment set the tone for a fantastic day of competition balanced with the forging of new friendships.
Speaking of new friendships, we are proud to announce a new partnership with our friends at Activyst, who are developing new girl-specific products and supporting SWB Granada through their efforts. This month, they are donating $1 for every new "Like" to their Facebook page. Please consider liking their page to support SWB Granada!
Thank you for continuing to invest in us in 2013. We hope that you have a lovely holiday season filled with beautiful moments like those from our Global Peace Games.
Local Director SWB Granada
Cultural Exchange is one of five Core Activities at every SWB program. For the second year in a row, SWB Granada hosted its "Sports-based Youth Development Seminar and Culture Exchange" in early August, bringing 12 high-school aged students from across the United States to Granada to spend a week immersed in the culture of Granada, and the community of SWB. The week provided a chance for our older SWB participants to meet and befriend youth their own age, and our younger SWB participants to meet some fun new coaches. Fittingly, the theme of the week was "Los Olimpicos" as the London Olympics had just kicked off as the group arrived.
This was the tenth such week-long immersion trip that SWB has facilitated in Granada, and the ninth for me personally. The time in between each of these trips is the true meat of the program: girls committed to one another, to their coaches, and to their teams four days per week, every week. With each new group that visits, however, they get to show off their hard work and progress to a new audience, and welcome new members to the SWB family.
The high-schoolers' week involved four components: Peer exchange, Soccer (Playing and Coaching), Nicaraguan Culture, and the Seminar. Each of these was woven into the schedule through activities in a variety of forms, we danced, coached, played, discussed, cooked, reflected, questioned, walked, and toured.
Simultaneously, the new SWB season was kicking off with an Olympic theme. We were all curious to what extent the girls knew about the Olympics, and other sports in general, but were pretty confident they would embrace the spirit, represented by colors, competition, and collaboration. We started the week with an Opening Ceremony followed by the Olympic pledge, division of teams by continent, and a three floor non-soccer Olympics, with Team events on the first floor, Field events on the second floor, and Track events on the third floor. Each of the five teams chose representatives to complete the events on each floor. As one 9 year-old participant crossed the finish line for the marathon (26.2 back and forths across the room), dripping with sweat, I watched her swell with pride. She couldn't wait to get home and tell her Mom she had run her first marathon, a distance she estimated was "casi cinco millas (about five miles)." Just a slight over-estimation, but she earned it!
Overall, the week was an incredibly unique and special blend of shared culture through a mutual passion for sport. The feeling that I had as I boarded the plane to Boston, though, couldn't be attributed to any one activity, any one moment. Some kind of combination of it all, paired with the intangible feeling of being such a welcomed part of a community that had no precedent for what we were asking them to embrace, yet has opened its doors and its arms to SWB for nearly five years. It's the pride in a girl's eyes when she says "I'm a Mariposa", "I'm an Estrella". The confidence in Helen, a former participant and current coach, as she accepted a trophy on behalf of SWB in front of all men's teams in the first ever women's soccer league in Granada. These feelings all come together in this overwhelming feeling of appreciation for all the people who have invested so much in creating this space, but also in finding a way to truly exist across borders, across differences, with people so different from themselves. Both sides have invested so much in that; investments of patience, of time, of resources, of explanations, of reserved judgement, of missed sleep, and about a million gallons of sweat.
Thank you all for your continued investment in the community of SWB Granada; we look forward to checking in with you all again at the end of the Fall season!
All the best,
To the dedicated supporters of SWB in Nicaragua,
Since our last update on International Women's Day, the girls of SWB Granada have been enjoying the various activities and events that make up an SWB "season." From team-building activities, to a two part workshop on Entrepreneurship, to a meet and greet with a Nicaraguan National Team player, to iSoccer skills, to as many friendly matches as we could schedule, it has been a very busy few months!
As the season draws to a close, we will welcome back to the US our dedicated Team Leaders, Alex, Alex, and Brittany. In the last 4 years, more than 150 volunteers from North America and Europe have spent time with SWB Granada. Many have joined the SWB Nicaragua family as a part of our camp program, unique weeks throughout the year where our girls can look forward to an influx of female student-athlete role models, new activities, and exciting team challenges. Others, like these three, have relocated to Granada for a year, dedicating themselves to the program alongside their Nicaraguan peers.
During this time, I have watched these individuals give generously of their time and talents, answer many questions about their lives outside of Granada, and form bonds across cultures, yet it is clear to me that this collaboration is incomplete. For most of these volunteers, this was not their first flight, their first time leaving their country. Many rallied the support of friends and family to make their trip possible via online fundraising or events. Most didn't think twice about having a license to board the plane, a passport to go through customs, or a suitcase to travel.
The challenges of turning the tables, bringing representatives from our Nicaraguan staff to the United States for training and a similar cross-cultural camp experience, are many. The average young adult is just as likely to have an ID card as to not have one. A passport? Even less likely. Once these are secured, the visa process to enter the US as a tourist or on a short business trip is arduous, complicated, and prohibitively expensive (more than a month's pay, for most), requiring several online applications in English (access to computer? to a translator?) and an in-person interview. A far cry from the 30 second interaction and $10 entrance fee going the other direction.
If we seek to truly collaborate on this effort to bring opportunities to girls in Granada, and broaden the lens through which they view their place in the world, we need to break down some of the perceived and real barriers to growth. One such barrier is the feeling of limitation, of being isolated and pre-determined to lead the life prescribed by statistics, averages, and stereotypes.
As such, SWB was determined to deliver a Reversal of Roles: to bring members of our Nicaraguan staff to the US for an intensive Leadership Training in July. Each staff member had the chance to apply, and we proudly extended invitations to two of our female coaches, Veronica and Hassell. Veronica is 24 years old and is arguably the most respected female soccer player and coach in Granada. Aside from her rare perseverance in her soccer career (her team has disbanded more than 5 times for lack of players), Veronica is a college graduate and licensed Psychologist. She divides her time between her clinical work and working as a Team Leader with the SWB Estrellas, girls ages 11-15.
Hassell's transition from participant to Team Leader marks a program milestone. Hassell is 20 years old and discovered her love for soccer late in her teen years but dedicated herself immediately. Upon aging out of the program, it was clear that she was meant to stay a part of it, and has been an invaluable member of the Mariposa coaching staff, working as an assistant Team Leader for girls ages 7-11.
Hassell and Veronica began the lengthy process of acquiring passports, filing a 7 page visa application, securing an interview slot, practicing for the interview, memorizing their itinerary and supporting documents from SWB, and heading to the capital for their interview. Both were denied.
The reasons for this are complicated, and overwhelmingly political. To oversimplify it to unfair or frustrating is to ignore a long and complex relationship between nations who have been intertwined for far longer than SWB has existed. On one hand, the denial is a setback, as this training would have be invaluable to Hassell and Veronica's growth as leaders within the program. That we will seek to overcome with continued in-country trainings and leadership opportunities closer to home. On the other hand, it is a reminder that there are very real, structural barriers that our girls face if they seek to change norms. Skills of self-advocacy, mediation, critical thinking, and problem solving will be crucial in that change; it is a challenge to us and our youth-serving counterparts to emphasize and teach these.
Thank you, as always, for your support and commitment to our girls in Granada. As our spring season comes to a close this Saturday, we are anxious for the season that lies ahead. The road isn't always without bumps and turns, but resilience doesn't come any other way!
If you are considering making another contribution to our program, please consider doing so today, a Global Giving Bonus Day! All donations today (June 13th) will be matched by funds from Global Giving.
With much appreciation,
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.