by Raphael Murumbi
by Mary McVeigh
In the last week, nineteen SWB Granada staff, volunteers, interns, and friends traveled from various parts of the United States to Nicaragua, poised to kick off a new year of activities. While their energy, ideas, talents, and enthusiasm are all invaluable assets to the program, they each carried with them something much more tangible: 50 lbs of equipment. The 950 lbs of balls, cleats, uniforms, school supplies, pinnies, cones, and clothing will help re-stock a critical resource of the Granada program- what the girls call "La bodega."
La Bodega is a room in our Community Center, Tres Pisos, where all individual equipment is stored (Team equipment, and equipment for players to borrow are housed in the Coaches room). On the wall outside of La Bodega hangs a price sheet: 24 points = One pair of cleats or sneakers, 12 points = one backpack, 8 points = 2 notebooks, and so on. When fully stocked, more than 15 items are available for "purchase" with points that the girls earn through participation. Every two weeks, each team has their chance to do "Cambios" where points are exchanged for items from La Bodega. You haven't seen pride until you've seen the smile of a new girl in the program who just earned her first pair of cleats.
To keep La Bodega stocked despite exorbitant shipping costs and unavailability of most items locally, we rely on checked baggage. Two to three times each year, SWB Granada hosts a large camp, inviting 10-20 volunteers to join us for a week of special activities. The activities are incredible, unique, and fun, and the girls love getting to know the volunteers each year. The camp also serves another purpose, though. In the last six years, more than 110 volunteers at TEAM Camp have transported approximately 7,500 lbs of equipment to Granada. Thousands of equipment donors have supported their efforts to collect this equipment, and it is no exaggeration to say the program couldn't exist without it!
With much appreciation for these efforts, the evolution of the equipment system has been much more nuanced than it might seem. Personally, my own thinking about the role of equipment in working across cultures has evolved tremendously over the last five years. I'm not ashamed to say that I was naive at the start, underestimating the impression that hundreds of pounds of scarce resources can make, and the strain it can place on a relationship. The goal of Futbol Sin Fronteras is to be a long-term, valued member of the community and to empower the girls in the program to identify and work toward their goals. Resources- physical, tangible, valuable resources- have an important role to play in that. However, there is no relationship more delicate than one between those who have these resources, and those who need/want them. Finding a way to provide the equipment necessary to create a safe, meaningful playing and learning environment without creating a perception of excess, seems at times impossible. How do we collaborate as equals when resources are so disproportionate?
Though complicated, finding a way to provide girls with a means to earn the resources they need to play safely, and achieve their goals in the classroom and on the field has been a critical part of SWB Granada. Thank you to all of the volunteers at this year's TEAM Camp and to everyone who helped them meet their goal of 50 lbs of equipment. We continue to seek ways to collaborate authentically with the community of Granada and support the girls in the program, and will no doubt learn and evolve, as La Bodega has, along the way.
By Shea Morrissey
Four Septembers ago, the Oakland SWB Girls’ Program was in its infancy. For a lot of reasons, attendance was sporadic and team cohesion was lacking. Still, we had a team of girls out there playing, and they were doing it with a whole lot of heart. As frustrating as it was for them to repetitively lose, a core group of girls continued coming back, improving the team and program every season.
This Fall, we lept over some kind of invisible threshold. The season started similarly to years past: an incredibly committed group of outstanding returners showed up to play on day one. If you knew these 10, you’d know seeing their smiling faces on the field was enough. But each week, another one or two girls would show up. Our usual 5v5 became 11v11 (with subs).
The attendance isn’t as important as what it’s indicative of: an inclusive environment. Our team didn’t grow because of a surge of soccer-playing newcomers, but because the girls started bringing their friends into the folds. Once they were there, they made more friends. The veterans showed the new girls (right away) that this team is a place where it’s ok to try new things, laugh until you fall over, and even cry when you need to. Regardless of language, culture, home country or status, they’ve supported each other, daily. With a little guidance and safe space to play, this team has created a family. For that, and for them, I’m so grateful.
by Mary McVeigh
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Streetfootballworld (SFW) Network General Assembly in Lyon, France, alongside 55 other Network members and the incredible SFW staff. Our peers in the Network are tackling homelessness in South Africa, preventing HIV/AIDS in Kenya, improving youth employability in France, addressing refugee inclusion in Australia, peacebuilding in the Middle East, and much more; it was quite humbling company. Ostensibly, the weekend was about the direction of SFW, networking amongst members, and finding ways to collaborate with our peers. As I left Lyon, however, what I took with me was much larger than a stack of business cards, new friendships, and a taste for soft cheeses. Rather, I keep coming back to three things that resounded in my mind: Big Questions, Common Purpose, and Collective Efforts.
Big Questions: The founders of SFW do a truly impressive job of asking themselves, and network members, big questions. Is there a limit to the potential impact that can soccer have on an individual, a community, a nation, the world? How does the success of our work rely on the economic, political, social, and cultural landscapes? What position are we in to advocate in those arenas? Though our programs utilize a tool (soccer) that seems clear and simple, development work is always complex. The closer you get to the ground-level where programs are delivered (read as: the kids!), the less you are able to focus on changing the systems that you are working within. The individual is your primary focus, followed by a team, the program, the community, and so on.
As the individual faces systemic obstacles, it's easy to become disenchanted, even to lose hope. The newcomer who stays home because he/she doesn't speak the local language. The student who drops out of school at age 12 for lack of secondary school entrance and uniform fees. The young woman whose parents will never permit her to play. The young man who is forced to leave the program at age 10 to work construction. The list is long and growing.
While dynamic programs and their leaders can sometimes these overcome obstacles, they often have little time remaining to find solutions for the root causes. Thus, as you move away from the ground-level, it is imperative to examine these larger systems, seek solutions, and advocate for those on the ground. SFW embraces its role; its vantage point and reach are uniquely positioned to advocate for our work at the highest level, where systems are created. What I learned in Lyon was that not only are they in the position to do this, but they sincerely consider it to be a critical part of their mission. Advocating at the highest levels of policy and decision making, they've already turned the heads of international governing bodies such as FIFA and the EU. We (SWB) are proud to be a part of a network that not only maneuvers within the system to deliver effective programs, but simultaneously examines the system, and seeks to better it.
Common Purpose: Thinking big is only possible when you have a shared purpose for which to advocate. That common purpose, for me, was one of the most refreshing parts of the weekend. I wasn't immediately asked to justify the why, what and where of SWB. Why soccer? What else do you do? Where does the money go? Don't get me wrong, these are important questions, but for me the inspiration comes in the who and the how.
Without knowing your "who", not just demographically but personally, it is not possible to design a "how" that can truly have an impact. The people I've met through SWB are some of the most creative, dynamic, intelligent, generous, hopeful, and hard-working individuals I've known. Moreover, they take great pride in making the most of what they do have, and feel the same hesitancy to accept charity, the same demand for quality, and the same desire to put their best foot forward that is so innately human. The difference between myself and them is that for reasons outside of their control they were born into a situation with very different, and very significant obstacles. These obstacles force them to make real choices, between pride and hunger, between basic needs and education, between traditions and the opportunities of the modern world, and between short-term necessities and long-term goals.
Getting to know the "who" is one of the great privileges of my work, and in Lyon I found that sentiment to be the same across the world. What was left to discuss, then, were the details of the "how." How can we best design a program that serves the needs of our who? Most importantly, how do we achieve this in a way that is respectful of the pride, needs, and traditions of those whom we aim to support?
Collective Efforts: In order to be as intentional as possible about the how, the Network got practical. We discussed forming working groups around specific issues that cut across all geography and populations so that real progress can be made on areas of our common purpose. I had the honor of being a part of the first such group, which spent the better part of Saturday discussing how to best use the Network to address gender issues. As experiences were shared from programs in Mali to South Africa, to Kenya, to Nicaragua, to Colombia, to the United States, a path forward emerged for the upcoming year. The mandate is daunting: to make the SFW organization and network a leader not only in sharing best practices around gender, but also by setting an example with its own practices, structures, and resources. The list of action items and recommendations is long, but underway.
Feeling proud of the day's work, I was brought back down to reality of the road ahead in the most fitting of scenarios: a small-sided soccer tournament. Network members and SFW leadership headed out to the beautiful 6v6 fields of Sport dans la Ville and, under threat of snow and frostbite, organized ourselves into four teams. Of nearly thirty players that night, just four were women, and none of the other three came from network member programs. It gave me pause to think that if our fields, representing the leaders in sport for development from 50+ countries, were this unbalanced then there is a long way to go.
The next night, an man representing a SFW network member from Eastern Europe approached me in the lobby, "few women in the game, you played very well." I thanked him and tried to change the subject, but he continued, "you can tell a lot about a person from their play." He knew just how to peak the curiosity of this Sociology student. "So what does my play say about me," I asked half-joking. "You know just what you want to do and what you are capable of, nothing more, nothing less," he explained.
That moment summed up for me the many layers of takeaways from the weekend. First, change can happen one person at the time. That person may be a young player in our program, a donor with the power to impact the entire organization, or a bystander waiting to see positive change. Second, soccer has the potential to create social change unlike any other medium (I'd even argue any other sport- but that is for another time) because it reveals a person's true self, and forces those selves to work together toward a common goal. Third, if that collective effort, and shared purpose can be channeled to address the big questions of our generation, then we are well on our way to positive change. For my part, SWB will continue to contribute what we can to that effort, to the best of our abilities and resources...nothing more, and certainly nothing less.