When Soccer Without Borders launched a girls program in Granada, Nicaragua in 2008, the state of girls and women's soccer in the country was inequitable to say the least. In a city of more than 110,000, there was not a single community sports league for girls, yet there were boys soccer and baseball leagues in virtually every age group. Nationally, there were four divisions of men's premier soccer, and just one nascent, under-funded premier league for women where many games got canceled due to lack of resources for travel.
Change happens when systemic decisions at the top are met by a groundswell from communities who believe that things can be different. Together with community members, school officials, and the Nicaraguan Football Federation (FENIFUT), Soccer Without Borders has worked towards a equitable opportunities for girls for almost a decade. For our part, we've established seven year-round teams in Granada, reached thousands of girls throughout the city through clinics and camps, hosted an annual tournament that has grown to 18 teams from four cities, and most recently launched a secondary school league. We've also supported community organizations and schools in other cities throughout Nicaragua to do the same, including Matagalpa, Diriamba, Las Salinas, Ometepe, Managua, and Jalapa.
Meanwhile, women's soccer champions at the Federation are working tirelessly to turn limited resources into maximum opportunity. Last year, a girls U-17 national team convened for the first time and competed in Guatemala. The women's premier league is now supported by equipment packages and funding for coaches. These steps are progress not only for women's soccer, but for sending the message that men and women, boys and girls, are equal and equally deserving of opportunities inside of sport and out.
This month we saw another huge milestone achieved: the launch of a U-15 girls national team. This team will represent Nicaragua in Orlando for a CONCACAF tournament in August. The fact that it is already training for that opportunity is a massive shift in precedent.
At Soccer Without Borders, our girls play for passion, for each other, and for their own personal development as students, athletes, and people. But after years of practices with little or no competition, the creation of a national team at this age is a dream come true. While it is rare for girls outside of the capital of Managua to be selected at all due to transportation barriers and school schedules, seven Soccer Without Borders participants were selected to train with the U-15 national team. Within the group, they average more than four years with SWB; one has been with the program since the very beginning. The trust between the Federation and Soccer Without Borders allows the girls to train with us during the week, and link up with the national team on weekends so as not to miss school and to enable them to travel safely to and from.
Margaret Mead said it best: Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has. We are so proud of every girl, coach, supporter, and leader who made this change possible!