As the Executive Director of Soccer Without Borders and the co-founder of Fútbol Sin Fronteras Granada, I would like to respond to the recent feature by Claire Luke entitled “Soccer players take a shot at sex ed.” Upon reading her interpretation of our work, I am saddened by the naïve portrayal of our approach to this sensitive and controversial topic and the lack of due diligence in learning the history, purpose, and values of our organization.
The mission of Soccer Without Borders is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing underserved youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success. The strength of a Soccer Without Borders program lies in its adaptability to identify obstacles that are specific to the community and population for whom the program is designed. One of our three core values is authenticity; this means giving value to all stakeholder voices and priorities. Our program prides itself on its authentic collaboration between our Nicaraguan and American staff members, and the community at-large. Together we have sought to identify the obstacles facing adolescent girls in Granada, including but not limited to school dropout and teen pregnancy. We continue to work together to define and refine how we can more pointedly address these obstacles.
To that end, over the last five years FSF frequently hosted workshops that provide our girls with information they seek, and connected them to existing community resources. In 2010, after two full years of building a trusting, safe space where girls felt strong connections to mentors, our female staff members led an optional question and answer night, where girls were invited to anonymously submit questions on any topic that was important to them. This led to several private conversations around sexual health, where it became clear that the desire for information among adolescent girls was not being met.
In 2011, we invited a nurse from the Ministry of Health to lead a three-part workshop series, with a particular focus on HIV/AIDS, including the opportunity for girls to schedule an individual meeting to have their questions answered by a trained professional. Still, there was a need for more.
The evolution of our program in Granada has been based on trust, privacy, and extensive examination of cultural nuance. Our staff, currently a 50/50 mix of Nicaraguan and American, seeks input from all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, local staff, and the girls themselves. We cautiously maneuver through cultural nuance, with a tremendous amount of self-reflection on our own biases and the lenses through which we view social realities. We employ a team approach in nearly every aspect, ensuring that all voices are heard, that learned lessons of the past are not lost, and that we remain flexible and open to the needs of the girls of Granada.
Unfortunately, shining a spotlight on our efforts just as we are aiming to launch another workshop series undermines our commitment to privacy and puts our credibility with parents at risk. The author visited FSF under the pretense of curiosity and an expressed desire to volunteer. Had we known that this was the content of the article she wished to write, we would have immediately explained that the timing and angle were inappropriate. Moreover, the article is inaccurate: this optional weekly series aims to create a space for girls to discuss their experiences and concerns, and for trusted coaches to help them find answers to any questions that arise. Specific sexual health information is not yet on the agenda to be distributed. Both of our quoted staff members have expressed that they have been severely misquoted, causing confusion and misrepresentation of this initiative.
We are proud of the brave young women who have chosen to create and embrace the identity of athlete, for this is truly uncommon in Granada. Research shows that when girls participate in athletics, in particular team sports, they are more likely to make healthy choices, less likely to smoke, less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, less likely to have unplanned pregnancies, more likely to stay in school, and less likely to suffer from depression. What research does not provide is a road map on creating the space in which girls feel supported and empowered to make healthy choices. For the last five years, FSF has been creating that roadmap with and for the girls of Granada. Thank you for supporting their efforts and respecting their privacy.
Mary McVeigh is Executive Director of Soccer Without Borders in Boston.
Editor’s note: The Nicaragua Dispatch stands by its article and by journalist Claire Luke, who clearly identified herself to in-country staffers at Soccer Without Borders as a reporter working for us on a story about the organization and its efforts to address sexual education.