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  • Soccer Without Borders

Updates from the court: Mia Weinland, WSC Fellow

We included time for discussion about our sports programming and how we can work together to improve the experience for the girls.

As is usually the case with moving to a new place, I’m astonished by how quickly the months have passed and yet simultaneously how quickly this city has started to feel like home. With some additional language ability and another couple of months in Myanmar under my belt, I feel confident navigating the streets, buses, and even motor-bike taxis. New routines and friendships seem to be constantly forming, and each brings with it new experiences and adventures that have formed my life here in Yangon.

The past month featured a healthy mix of work, travel, and site visits that have only grown my fondness of this country and the gratitude I feel that I get to work with Girl Determined. Earlier this month, the skills clinic and coaching workshop I’ve been working on finally came to fruition, and I got the opportunity to work with a total of 30 coaches over two three-day trainings in Myitkyina and Mandalay. These trainings featured three days of volleyball skill-building and coaching tips, as well as classroom sessions about trauma and how to work with girls in our programming who have experienced traumatic events.

Water breaks were also excellent times for taking photos, I learned. This one was taken with one of the lead coaches in Mandalay, Zin Mar Aung, who graciously carted me on the back of her scooter (it looked as ridiculous as it sounds) to see the Thadingyut street festival after our training one day.

Tasked with organizing and facilitating a trauma-informed coaching practices workshop, I scoured online journals and organizational resources for information about how trauma impacts brain development in youth, how girls and women are particularly susceptible to multiple forms of trauma, and how sport and play can positively impact or create coping mechanisms and social support structures for those who have experienced traumatic events. While translating the jargon of developmental psychologists into practically useful terminology for coaches, and then working with an interpreter to translate that content into Burmese and Jinghpaw (another ethnic language spoken in Kachin State in northern Myanmar) was like working out a linguistic Rubix-cube, I feel confident that the main points were communicated and the coaches expressed they felt equipped with additional tools and methods after our training.

Our volleyball sessions were jam-packed with new stretching routines, drills, games, and team-building activities. I had been on site-visits to observe some coaches in these regions, so it was awesome to get to incorporate some of the drills and games I had seen them play into the sessions we had together. It was great to get to run drills from my own playing and coaching experience with a new set of coaches, and at points I could hear the words of encouragement and points of instruction that had so often been said to me as I developed as a player coming out of my mouth. Over the three days in each city, plenty of fun was had, memorable moments shared, and Royal D (an electrolyte drink similar to Gatorade) drunk. All in all, I learned a lot about how important it is to communicate clearly, work together to form plans ahead of time, and adapt quickly to unforeseen obstacles or challenges.

Between trainings I took advantage of being in Northern Myanmar to go visit Indawgyi Lake, a lake and wetland wildlife sanctuary in Kachin State that boasts an impressive amount of biodiversity as well as biking, hiking, and kayaking opportunities. I got to explore the hills surrounding the lake with Sut Mai Aung, a young man from the area who, equipped with a short sword and a pair of soccer cleats, led me up the steep hillside. Along the way he pointed out a host of native plants, fruits, and animals, and all the while we talked about his upbringing and societal issues facing his community. Hearing from people about their experiences and their communities has proven to be a treasure-trove of information that has shaped, re-shaped, and continues to inform my understanding of this country, its history, and the complex issues that face it presently. I’m really thankful for his willingness to explain things to me, answer my (many) questions, and share his knowledge about the area. I’m even more thankful that we could both laugh at myself when I tumbled, head-over-heels, down a steep section of the hillside and into a creek (turns out soccer cleats are an incredibly underrated choice of hiking footwear).

Two coaches working together to add tension to the net by snaking a wire around the pole and harnessing it to the load-bearing posts for the gym. A perfect example of the ingenuity and creative problem solving I see here all the time.

There consistently are things that surprise me about this place, and each day features some moment where I just have to sit back, laugh, and shrug my shoulders (both in humor and occasionally in exasperation). One such moment happened while I was sitting with colleagues in our Mandalay office working on the lesson-planning for our coaching curriculum. As we talked, we could hear the various roving shopkeepers (people pushing wheeled carts with their wares and goods) selling everything from noodles to mangos to lottery tickets. I was in the middle of explaining Queen’s Court when a particularly convincing salesman’s voice reverberated through the walls of the office, piquing everyone’s interest and suddenly the office was a flurry of everyone grabbing at their wallets and heading for the street.

Outside the office was a man whose cart was weighed down by a mountain of meat, from which he was sourcing individual skewers to sell to passersby. A more careful inspection suggested that this meat stack was pork. An even closer inspection yielded that it was every conceivable part of the pig. And while I’m no vegetarian, I was slightly thrown off by the sight of the pig’s entire nose sitting among the pile of the pig’s ears, organs, and hide. After talking with the shopkeeper, I found out this man goes through an entire pig each day, drawing crowds of people from homes, offices, and shops all along the street. He even offered the “Pig 2 Go” option for motorcyclists passing by who wanted to grab a couple of sticks for the road.

My colleagues and I sat around and picked off skewers, pointing at parts of the pig we’d like to try. My initial reservations were eased as I saw almost the entire staff indulging in everything from ear to cartilage to intestine. Laughing at my skeptical inspections of each skewer that was handed to me, my coworkers were eager to hand me the next piece of the pig to try. And having just gone over the English words for body parts with one coworker during an informal English lesson, she was excitedly pointing to her own body parts and saying aloud the words so I would be fully informed that I was eating pig “shoulder”, “neck”, and “stomach”. We ate, laughed, and ate some more until we were satiated, handing the friendly meat-man our tab and bidding him farewell as he continued to sweep the block for more customers. The spontaneity of that organic interaction (as well as a stomach full of pork) left me smiling for the rest of the day.

The next month or so I will continue to reflect on these trainings use the lessons learned to inform my other projects. Exciting things are happening at Girl Determined in these next couple of months and I’m stoked to be a part of them.


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