By Roger Li
Females in Kenya, Burma and Uganda traditionally don't play soccer. But for 18 girls at Crawford High School, this vision became a reality because of the initiative of three students from The Bishop's School: Sarah Noble (Class of '10), Devan Osegueda (Class of '11), and Holland Chase (Class of '10).
Three years ago, these girls had an idea to create and coach a summer soccer program for refugee teens. All three played both club and school soccer and wanted to relay their passion into a philanthropic endeavor.
With just an idea, Noble and Chase e-mailed the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a refugee resettlement agency. Amberley Middleton, education coordinator for the IRC's Student Plus afterschool program, spoke of her first impressions of the girls.
"I still remember their first e-mail expressing their desire to run a girl's soccer clinic. They made a very professional first impression," said Middleton. "The e-mail clearly showed their passion for teaching soccer to their peers."
After getting the IRC on board, the girls set out to acquire funds for their ambitious project. A letter to family and friends raised $3,000 for soccer balls, cleats, shinguards, T-shirts and snacks.
The classes focus on dribbling, passing, shooting and strategy. But ask any of the girls and each will say that the camp is about much more than soccer skills. From the beginning, they wanted to emphasize female empowerment and share the universal language of soccer. Five of the refugee participants have gone on to make the Crawford High soccer team with the confidence gained from the intensive six-week camp.
"The girls have improved their first touch on the ball and have learned to pass much better," said Maya Theuer, a junior at the Bishop's School who just joined the team of coaches this summer "They have made me love soccer that much more."
Noble spoke of how a change of plans came to be fortuitous.
"When we originally contacted the Students Plus program manager, we said that we would do a program for younger kids. She suggested that we could instead fill a slot in the summer program. At first, we weren't sure the teens would listen to us. But in the end, it turned out better because we could relate to them more."
Madina Maho, senior at Crawford who has particiapted all three summers, said, "The coaches are really friendly, like they can be coaches and your best friends. Where I grow up, girls are supposed to be cooking and cleaning. My friend was surprised that I play soccer.
She said that soccer was for boys, but I told her that in America, girls play any sport they want."
In a statement released by the program founders, they mentioned the personal impact that the program has had on their lives: "The (refugee girls) have taught us to be grateful for the wonderful lives we have been blessed with, and to always appreciate the freedom we now have as womeen. Not only have we gained a feeling of accomplishment, we have also gained 18 true friends."