On March 4, 10 Soccer Without Borders staff, representing all 4 of the U.S. sites, arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. We were ready to participate in the first part* of a Sports United U.S Department of State Girls Empowerment Leadership Camp Exchange program with Women Win and Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN)/3 Sisters Adventure Trekking. We met the other SWB participants, Sarah Murray and Nicole Matuska, the Women Win leaders of the exchange, Lucky and Dicky Chhehtri, 2 of the founders of EWN and 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, and a number of smiling, welcoming staff of EWN and 3 Sisters. We were jetlagged, bright-eyed, and excited for the days ahead.
Shortly after arriving, we flew to Pokhara, the city in which Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) and 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking are based. There, we visited EWN Goal Programme sites at local schools. We saw the way the program was implemented by young leaders, empowering girls and advancing education around women’s rights through Women Win’s 4-module curriculum for both girls and boys. We also had an opportunity to jump on the field, leading team-building and soccer activities as we learned from the youth in both the girls’ and boys’ Goal Programme.
The second part of the experience was a 4-day trek, led by guides and assistants at 3 Sisters Trekking. We spent the day before departure learning about the model and issues addressed at 3 Sisters. During an official ceremony and presentation, the guides perfomed a drama, which was equally as entertaining as it was important in its message. It touched upon urgent women’s rights issues in Nepal and the approach that 3 Sisters takes to address those issues. It was just a glimpse at the incredible talent and vision of the guides who would lead us on our trek.
For the following four days, we had the opportunity to connect: to our Nepali guides and assistants, to the surreal natural surroundings, to inner struggles, and to passions for gender equality and women’s rights. Each day, we were challenged to reflect on our leadership through activities and discussions focused on confidence, voice/storytelling, vision, and taking action. It was clear that Sarah and Nicole (the Women Win leaders of this exchange) facilitated each of the day’s activities with careful intention.
I found myself deconstructing my own leadership style, deeply considering my path, my approaches to gender inclusion, and my impact on girls’ programming at SWB. I also found myself in awe of the people with whom I was sharing this experience. For four days, I walked alongside women and men who had overcome such adversity, who are creating real change in Nepal, in the U.S., throughout the world.
When we returned to Pokhara, we closed the trek with a dinner during which we were all asked to describe the experience with one word. Humbling, inspired, empowering, grateful, beautiful, confidence…
On the final day of the exchange, we took the field once again at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, leading soccer programming for 40 Nepali girls. The session was led by Lindsey, the SWB Boston Director, and Kat, the SWB Baltimore Director of Coaching. The rest of us joined in and played. In small moments, I found myself getting lost in the game, following directions given by a player on my team, or focusing on my next pass to a teammate. After just two hours, I felt overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunity to connect to this group of girls in a way that only sport could allow me to.
At our closing dinner, we shared final reflections and voiced plans to empower the girls in our communities. As we traveled home to Boston, Baltimore, Greeley, and Oakland, we all carried with us unforgettable memories and friendships, but we also carried a responsibility. Our plans are both big and small. They are possible and they are important. We are inspired and excited to put them into action.
*This trip to Nepal was the first part of the exchange. In July, SWB Oakland will host a group of leaders from EWN/3 Sisters.