Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has a long history of environmental devastation going back to the colonization by the French, and are in the crosshairs of climate change today. Kids see it, feel it, and are affected by it. GOALS Haiti is a Sports-For-Development organization that uses soccer as a tool for development and, as it turns out, to deal with climate change.
GOALS Haiti plies its trade in the Leogane region (pop. 300,000), the epicenter of the devastating 2010 earthquake, about 25 miles west of capital Port-Au-Prince. That trade, according to Jolinda Hackett, Executive Director of GOALS, is “to engage kids and their parents in sport, health and education, which improves life on a day-to-day basis and develops local leadership for the future.”
The brainchild of Kona Shen, a young American English teacher who had been active in the Leogane in 2007 and had played soccer with girls in town, GOALS was formed after the 2010 earthquake. Ms. Hackett came to the area, post-quake, as a volunteer, planned to stay a month and, “I haven’t left since.” She took over as Executive Director role last year.
Jolinda Hackett, Executive Director of GOALS Haiti, with Yverline, one of the program’s star players (Photo credit: GOALS Haiti)
Starting with 100 kids in a single village in 2010, the program has grown to serve 400 youngsters in 4 villages. They do so through the prism of making it possible for them to play soccer. Which might not sound like much but, in the Leogane, post-earthquake, it takes a Herculean effort.
Fighting the ravages of environmental degradation, impacted at least in part by climate change, is a key part part of that heavy lift. As Ms. Hackett put it, “climate change is having a direct effect. Due to rampant deforestation, there’s a lack of topsoil. So when the rains come, flooding results in most of the areas in which GOALS Haiti operates, including on the soccer fields. That means the kids have to repair our fields before they can play.”
And the fields also need to be cleaned of trash, including bottles and food scraps—which the kids handle, under the direction of the coaches and with the help of a local organization that recycles bottles. “Recycling is one of the more popular activities for our kids and coaches,” says Hackett, “you can’t play, and fans can’t watch, if the field is full of trash.” Last year, GOALS kids collected 3,700+ plastic bottles to be recycled. And, compost piles dot the landscape as well, so coaches and kids learn what waste goes where.
Bottles picked up from the GOALS Haiti playing fields are repurposed to protect gardens in the Leogane. (Photo credit: GOALS Haiti)
Substandard infrastructure in the Leogane beyond the fields exacerbates the challenges the kids face. There is a system of run-off canals that flow from the mountains to the Caribbean, through the Plains where many villages are. Per Ms. Hackett, “Our kids would pick up trash from the beach and then would notice it would reappear. They figured out that upstream villagers were throwing trash in the canal.”
Armed with this knowledge, the GOALS Haiti kids trekked up to Carrefour Croix, a couple of miles up from the beach, and talked to the local kids about properly dealing with their garbage such that it doesn’t get thrown in the canal. The Carrefour Croix kids have greatly reduced the amount of trash going into the canal and are working on getting adults to do the same.
Beyond the environment, GOALS Haiti works to improve on other basic areas of need for the Leogane kids, including:
- Healthy Bodies/Healthy Food: GOALS offers the coaches with nutrition education that they then pass on to the kids. Access to medical care and healthy snacks at soccer are also provided. The kids are also taught how to garden and plant.
- Strong Role Models/Leaders: Coaches are carefully screened and trained, both in terms of soccer and mentorship, including instruction on recycling and composting.
- Girls Play: Involving girls in the program has been a stunning success; witness the selection of 2 GOALS girls to make the Haition Under-17 national team.
GOALS Haiti operates by the hand up, not hand out approach. “Everything we do is an exchange between us, the kids and the community,” says Ms. Hackett, “the kids can’t just play soccer. They have to go through the education component and participate in community service.”
GOALS Haiti coach teaching soccer–and important life lessons–to girls in the Leogane. (Photo credit: GOALS Haiti)
And while GOALS Haiti has a limited budget, the region has embraced it in a big way. Local communities provide the soccer fields; partners like One World Football and Street Football World donate equipment. Not surprisingly here’s a waiting list of teams and communities that want to take part in GOALS Haiti—the only limitation is funding.
Want to get involved? Please visit goalshaiti.org to make a donation or to learn how to donate new or gently used soccer gear to support GOALS’ work providing sport, health and education opportunities in rural Haiti.
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