Soccer Without Borders was selected to send a delegation to participate in streetfootballworld’s Festival 19 at the Women’s World Cup. The team was comprised of five members from different SWB sites around the U.S., one of which was SWB Boston’s own Vanessa.
Vanessa came to Boston from Honduras when she was nine years old. Since joining SWB shortly after she arrived to the U.S., Vanessa has become confident in her ability to speak English and play soccer, and has stepped up as a leader both within SWB and as a co-captain of her high school’s soccer team.
While Vanessa, along with the rest of the SWB delegation had the opportunity to attend the Netherlands vs. Sweden semifinal match, the week in France, was mainly dedicated to bridge-building.
“Meeting and playing with people from other countries was the best part of the whole thing. We didn’t even speak the same languages. That was difficult but also fun at the same time, “ says Vanessa.
While Vanessa and her team had great soccer success making it to the tournament finals, Vanessa found her most impactful takeaway from the Festival was experiencing the power of soccer as an equalizer. She describes how the games they played were inclusive regardless of age, language, gender, or color, “Even though we speak different languages, soccer brings us together no matter where you are from. I never thought of it that way.”
The sport had a new meaning when she played with and against people from all over the world. This year, 35 countries were represented at Festival19. Vanessa reflects, “Playing with different people from different countries--now I know the real meaning of what it means to be equal with everybody.”
A challenge she had to overcome was learning how to communicate with those who didn’t share a common language--a similar challenge to the one she faced when she first moved from Honduras to Boston. In many situations, soccer became the shared language. Other times, she found herself using gestures, smiling, speaking a mixture of Spanish and English, and even practicing the Italian she’s learning in school. She was amazed by how many people at the festival spoke so many languages, inspiring her to learn French next.
Throughout the week, Vanessa had the opportunity to make many new friends on and off the field. She says of the SWB team, “I feel like we just connected like we knew each other forever. Most people thought we were from the same place because we just got along so well.” Since being back, she has continued to stay in touch with many of her new friends from New York, Brazil, France, and Germany.
The week finished out with a closing ceremony featuring fireworks, women juggling, horses, and a dance that all participants had learned together throughout the week-- it was a moment Vanessa says she wishes she could relive. “It was crazy! I have never seen fireworks so close. There were so many, it filled the entire stadium with smoke.”The ceremony was a celebration of all they had learned, the new friendships that had been formed, and the joy that comes from sharing in something together, in the words of Vanessa, “no matter your age, gender, color, or anything.”
As a new season begins here in Boston, Vanessa will bring back all she has learned about inclusive play to demonstrate the power soccer can have to bring people together on her team.