Youth leadership in rural Haiti through soccer
Through soccer, GOALS engages young people and their families in programs that promote education, health, and environmental protection to improve their quality of life on a daily basis. Through leadership development and social change initiatives, GOALS is creating stronger, healthier communities in rural Haiti.
There are places in the world where it is very hard to be a child. In rural Haiti, families labor for survival in the face of extreme poverty, without any formal support or safety net. There is no infrastructure, including electricity and running water, and public schools are rare. Subsistence farming and fishing are the main source of work, along with the demanding work of market women who travel long distances to sell and buy goods. Transportation is limited and the roads to markets, towns and even other villages are in disrepair or non-existent, making every outing arduous. The isolation that comes from this lack of services is most acutely felt when it comes to health care and development.
More Haitians are leaving the countryside now than ever before, migrating to unsafe living conditions in overcrowded cities. More than half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 24, which means mobilizing the youth will have a dramatic effect on the future of the country.
The challenge is to find a new way to make an impact on the lives of rural families, because as long as young people cannot find even the most basic opportunities in the rural villages where they are born, there is no incentive for them to stay and build their communities.
Soccer has always been important in Haiti. At a local level, the game bring the community together in a way that little else can. By approaching critical issues through the lens of sports, GOALS has found a strategy that makes it possible to provide vital support for the health and development of Haiti’s youth, while providing a space for them to be self-directed and even co-producers of their activities.
The sport for development model places emphasis on self-direction and individual action, while also highlighting the importance of supporting one another within the team. There are many parallels between the approach and Haiti’s traditional konbit culture, where the community comes together to perform the most labor-intensive tasks and also works to support members of the community that are more vulnerable or have recently suffered a loss. The natural resonance of the sport for development approach is rooted in the ways it mirrors Haitian values of community and service.
Our Young Leaders Program is a monthly curriculum as part of our Purposeful Play program. Purposeful Play creates education outside of the classroom and is unique for two key reasons:
- Purposeful Play is based on a self-directed learning methodology that creates an environment for children to be in control. They can suggest and implement solutions to problems posed by the coaches or the activities themselves. This develops the key skill sets of problem solving and critical thinking.
- Every activity is designed to educate participants about specific social issues. This transforms the sports field into a safe space where individuals can learn and ask important questions. Through the program, team captains and youth leaders gain confidence in a leadership role and problem-solving skills. Youth learn about the promotion of sustainable development including human rights, healthy lifestyles, a culture of peace, and gender equality.
GOALS recognized the urgency of improving the quality of life and providing opportunities for youth to keep them out of the rural to urban migration trap. The concrete impacts of GOALS’ programming include the reduction of teenage birth rates (from 7% to just under 1%) and increased local options for education and health care. Youth are provided a healthy outlet that includes soccer training, equipment, mentoring and safe space to play, which in turn improves physical and mental health and wellbeing and creates increased self-confidence and improved communication skills.
Providing the space where youth can explore their world using critical thinking skills and practice using their voice is key in fostering youth leadership. We are seeing the shift in attitudes and norms for what is possible for youth and especially girls in rural Haiti who after a decade of our programs now have a generation of youth leaders and role models to look up to.
Kathy McAllister is the Executive Director for GOALS Haiti and has lived and worked in Haiti for 2 decades. As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Haiti her focus has been on youth engagement and community development with locally led initiatives for social change.