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Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua

by Soccer Without Borders
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Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua
Playing (Soccer) For Change in Nicaragua

Two generations of Nicaraguan women took their seats in the Fútbol Sin Fronteras (FSF- Soccer Without Borders) activity center Tres Pisos. Mothers and daughters sat facing new pink and light-blue backpacks filled with materials necessary for a successful year of studying: school uniforms, shoes, notebooks, rulers, and pencils. Greeted by new co-directors Cesar and Veronica, FSF had chosen their 28 daughters as recipients of these backpacks as well as free tuition for a year of studying at any secondary school in Granada.

Now in its second year, the FSF Education Program has advanced the academic potential of Nicaraguan girls by providing secondary school tuition scholarships and school materials to 28 girls for the 2015 school year, including 12 returning recipients. Doubling the number of recipients in a single year would not have been possible without generous support from the Tom Pope Memorial Fund and the Girls' Rights Project. Rather than have participants compete with one another for slots, all who meet the FSF program participation and application requirements can earn a scholarship. This serves as incredible inspiration for our participants and families, and no doubt will lead to continued growth.

As you know, girls in Nicaragua face a tremendous set of educational challenges: only 55.8 percent of students who enter primary school will reach 6th grade[1], the final year of primary school. The trend continues downward in secondary school, though accurate data is incredibly hard to find. The barriers to completing school are formidable: responsibility for younger siblings and other household responsibilities, lack of financial resources, lack of parent support, and poor health care/frequent absenteeism among others, often prevent girls from pursuing and completing secondary school. In an effort to interrupt this cycle, we provide school uniforms and materials, matriculation and other school fees, daily tutoring services, and regular meetings with academic counselors to scholarship recipients.  Nevertheless, girls who do not qualify for scholarships also receive individual support – homework hour with academic advisors and tutors, access to computers for homework help, and the ability to exchange points earned from attending practice for school uniforms and materials.

As we entered the second year of the education program, we used participation records to observe how many of our girls had repeated a primary or secondary school grade in the 2014 school year (note: our youngest/newest team was not included in the report). The results? 86% of FSF girls completed their school year and passed onto the next grade. 

While the results were positive compared to the norm, we dug deeper, wanting to understand the causes for the 14%. Not surprisingly, our girls who had not advanced academically faced similar obstacles: family instability, behavior issues and subsequent punishment at school, lack of academic motivation, and leaving school to work. While these obstacles are consistent with norms nationwide, we are determined to address and overcome them. We plan to increase the educational role of coaches and advisors, expanding their support to scholarship and non-scholarship participants. Earlier intervention with parents and school directors will ensure that it is never too late to get back on track. 

Thank you so much for following and supporting our efforts to change outcomes for girls in Nicaragua! 


[1] (UNICEF, At a Glance: Nicaragua) 


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It is with great pride that we announce the promotion of longtime coaches and program leaders Veronica Balladares and Cesar Morales to Co-Directors. 

Veronica Balladares was one of our five original coaches in 2008, bringing a wealth of expertise and support for our girls as a professional Psychologist. One of the most well-respected female players in Granada, Veronica was a mainstay defender and captain of the Granada premier team during its time in the Premier Division. Veronica has completed several SWB coaching courses, and this Spring received her FIFA youth coaching certification. Until now, she had worked with SWB part-time as coach of Team Sweet Lake while holding a full-time job with the Ministry of Health. We are ecstatic that she now joins SWB in a full-time capacity. Already, she was selected to participate in the streetfootballworld-led State Department Exchange between the U.S., Nicaragua, and Colombia, and will continue to serve as the SWB representative to the streetfootballworld network in Latin America.

Cesar Morales has been a part of the program since the very beginning, attending our first-ever coaches clinic in 2008. A well-known figure in the soccer community in Granada, he is team captain and center midfielder in the local men's league for his team FC Carillera. Cesar has coached the program's Mariposa Senior team for 4 years, and in 2014 became the Education Program Coordinator and Bookkeeper. He holds a college degree in accounting, and is a certified "contador" in Granada. In addition to his extensive administrative and financial skills, he is nearly fluent in English and continues to invest in professional development through participation in leadership courses, a U.S. State Department SportsUnited Exhange, and most recently the SWB Program Leaders' Retreat in Boston. 

For 7 years, SWB Granada has been a collaboration between the USA and Nicaragua, creating opportunities for girls on the field and off, including pathways to educational advancement. As someone who was there from the beginning, each year has brought challenges, successes, failures, and endless learning (Read more on this in our recent Huffington Post piece: "An Untold Story: Learning to Fail Forward"). This transition of leadership to local Nicaraguan Directors marks an incredible milestone and new challenge for the collaboration. Cesar and Veronica are up for the challenge, and have already hit the ground running, leading a busy January schedule and preparing for the new school year in which SWB will have 28 secondary school scholarship recipients.

Thank you for your continued support of SWB Nicaragua as we move into this next stage of evolution and local leadership, and felicidades Cesar y Veronica!


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“Girls have the power to change the world.”

With these words, team leader Margot commenced the 2014 International Day of the Girl at Fútbol Sin Fronteras Granada. Speaking to over 100 girls across all five FSF teams, Margot explained that the Day celebrates and teaches that girls do not have to wait until adulthood to start making positive change in their communities: girls can make change every day. Citing Malala Yousafzai, young global champion of girls’ education and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Winner as an example of how girls can change the world, Margot invited the girls to think about their unique capabilities and potential as young female and athletic leaders in Granada.

Since 2012, the United Nations has commemorated October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to promote girls’ rights and promote worldwide gender equality. The UN theme for 2014 was Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence and recognizing the unique challenges that girls face all around the world.

FSF celebrated the Day of the Girl this year with a series of activities on and off the field, focusing on team building, girls’ rights, the importance of education, as well as ending the cycle of violence.

On Saturday, October 11, all FSF teams gathered at the Multi-Estadio field for a day of games – wheelbarrow races, jump rope competitions, and an intense version of dodgeball. Girls from youngest to oldest teams worked together in each game as members of Sweet Lake and the Estrellas helped the Maripositas and Princesas accomplish each task.

On Tuesday, October 14, the coaches led stations in the FSF Office, Tres Pisos, to reflect on the importance of the Day of the Girl. Activities included a conversation about the “Rights of the Girl” that asked the girls to design their own rights, as well as a powerpoint presentation on global women leaders such as Malala. Coaches asked girls how they could implement these lessons in their everyday interactions.

The week ended with a workshop for the older FSF teams led by Ixchen, a Granada-based women’s center. In fitting with the 2014 Day of the Girl theme, “Ending the Cycle of Violence,” representatives from Ixchen discussed preventing violence in romantic relationships and let them know what helpful resources are available in Granada should a dangerous situation arise in their lives.

The messages of the FSF Week of the Girl gave the girls hope for better education, an end to violence against girls, and opportunities to step up as leaders now, both on and off the field. Thank you for your continued support of FSF Granada. Your support is not only meaningful to our efforts locally, but a part of a larger movement toward equality of opportunity for girls across the globe.


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Coach Hassell at the UN Leadership Camp
Coach Hassell at the UN Leadership Camp

The Brazil games have all wrapped up, the trophy has been awarded, and players are headed home. There has been much talk surrounding the legacy of this World Cup and other mega events, and their impact on the communities and nations in which they are hosted. That discussion is both warranted and complicated, but for Soccer Without Borders Nicaragua one of the most powerful legacies of this World Cup lies in the hearts, minds, and abilities of two of our coaches.

The girls of SWB Nicaragua are the central focus of this program, and their needs, dreams, and ideas keep us on our toes constantly. Yet the unsung heroes who support our girls to bring those ideas and dreams to life are our Nicaraguan coaches. Our team of leaders, all of whom began as volunteers, has an average tenure of 46 months. That's nearly four years of daily innovating, teaching, supporting, listening, and problem solving with and for their teams.  It is no surprise that 91% of our girls said they think of their coach as someone they can go to with a serious problem.

Our coaches come from the very same community as our girls, and face the very same obstacles, making their perseverance and consistency that much more remarkable. Opportunities for personal development are rare, and education systems fall short in both quality and accessibility. For that reason, we could not be prouder that this June two of our Nicaraguan coaches were selected for two fully sponsored, global, leadership development opportunities: the Sony Global Youth Forum in Brazil, and the United Nations Youth Leadership Camp in Florida. 

Estefan headed to Brazil, joining just 35 peers selected from organizations around the world, to discuss the legacy of the World Cup and opportunities to create change through soccer in his home community. Hassell, a former participant-turned-coach, headed to the U.S. for two weeks of camp aimed at strategies for integrating life-skills training into sport, and practicing leadership skills while building cross-cultural bonds. 

Both returned to Granada energized by new knowledge and mentors, and inspired to deepen the impact of our program for our girls. That's a legacy that will ripple for years to come.

Thank you for investing in all that makes this program possible, most especially our local mentors and leaders. 

All the best,


p.s. Today is a GlobalGiving Bonus Day, meaning that all donations are matched! If you have been considering contributing again to the program, please consider donating today.

Coach Techo in Brazil at the Sony Youth Forum
Coach Techo in Brazil at the Sony Youth Forum


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Rosa, 2014 scholarship recipient
Rosa, 2014 scholarship recipient

Don't you agree? Research shows that expected lifetime earnings for a girl in the developing world increase by about 10-15% for every additional year of secondary school. Still, for girls in Granada, there are significant barriers to secondary school enrollment, let alone completion. Let's break it down for a second:

  • While primary school enrollment for Nicaraguan girls is 85%, secondary school enrollment is just 45%.
  • The attendance rate for Nicaraguan girls in primary school is 83.6%, yet in secondary school it drops to 57.9%, meaning girls miss more than 2 days per week of school on average each week.
  • The school life expectancy for a Nicaraguan girl is 10.2 years.
  • Nearly half of Nicaraguan girls are pregnant by age 20, with over a quarter of births to girls age 14-18 (this rate is much lower for girls who stay in school!).

It's uphill at every turn. Some of the most significant barriers are:

  • Cost of uniforms and school supplies, even at public schools
  • Lost potential income for family
  • Responsibilities in the home so that parents can work (care for siblings, cleaning, watching the house)
  • Lack of incentive for long-term visioning and planning 
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Health issues causing high absence rate
  • Lack of academic support once behind

The list is daunting- but our girls are brave. With that in mind, drumroll.... 

We are ecstatic to announce the launch of the Fútbol Sin Fronteras Granada Programa Educativo (SWB Granada Education Program). The program was established in 2014 to provide educational and financial support to girls in FSF who have dedicated themselves to learning, to their team, and to their futures. It was created by an SWB family in memory of a young man who exhibited all of the characteristics of a well-rounded student-athlete: humility, dedication to school and team, integrity, hard work, care for self and others. 

The program has two tiers: 

  • Tier 1 (accessible to all participants): Material support for school uniforms (public and private) and educational supplies earned through participation in SWB activities.  Daily homework hours with access to computers, art supplies, internet, and tutors.
  • Tier 2 (accessible to selected participants): Secondary school scholarships for matriculation fees, full uniform and educational supplies. Mandatory tutoring and advising hours and quarterly progress reports. 

We are humbled to expand our impact to include direct financial, educational support, and excited to be working alongside with our girls' schools to help them get to the finish line. Without six years of trust and program-building, we would not be able to implement such a nuanced and extensive effort. Thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way, and for your continued interest in the impact you've made. Get to know all 14 of our scholarship recipients and learn more about the program here


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Soccer Without Borders

Location: Cambridge, MA - USA
Project Leader:
Mary McVeigh
Cambridge, MA United States
$67,241 raised of $75,000 goal
2,236 donations
$7,759 to go
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