By Jacob Klinger
Between her freshman and sophomore years of majoring in development studies at Brown University Kona Shen played on a girls’ team in Leogane, Haiti. She was not very good at the sport, but her teammates liked her and helped her learn Creole
At the time, the summer of 2007, Shen was volunteering as an English teacher. That trip planted the seeds for Global Outreach And Love of Soccer (GOALS) Haiti. Five years later Shen’s charity was honored by Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who gave GOALS the Best New Project award at the international Beyond Sport Federation summit.
“As a small, grassroots organization, we face a lot of challenges to increase support and grow our capacity so that we can effectively reach more children in need throughout Haiti,” Shen told Soccer365.com in an email. “We’ve come a long way in our first two years, but there is still much more work to be done.”
The Leogane-based program aids Haitian children in education and their health through soccer. What makes GOALS special is its refusal to create aid dependence.
GOALS’ 18 Haitian staff members are required to lead their teams in education and service activities in addition to soccer practices. Players attend weekly classes, often in language or disease prevention as well as working locally. For instance, teams often clean their own fields and maintain community vegetable gardens.
Each child is also given a home water filtration kit to bring home to their families. At every day of practice, GOALS provides its players with a free meal. The soccer itself, though, can be the most useful tool in helping Haitian children.
Cassandra came from the small village of Destra, Haiti and came to GOALS as a shy girl with a destroyed hometown. The January 2010 earthquake closed Destra’s only school. On the field, though, Cassandra came out of her shell. GOALS eventually awarded a scholarship that allows her to train as a health professional in her native village. She now plans on attending medical school.
GOALS is represented internationally by FC Dallas midfielder James Marcelin. Marcelin was born in Saint-Marc, Haiti, up the coast from Leogane. GOALS also received a donation of equipment from Hope Solo.
While the Beyond Sports Federation award does give the organization financial backing, GOALS is always in need of equipment. New or used cleats are the program’s most dire need along with balls. Cones, bags, pinnies and keeper gloves are needed, too, Shen said.
Said Shen: “I love the work that I do, for its successes and for its challenges.”
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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