When three-time Olympian and Park City resident Tracy Evans went on a volunteer trip to Malawi in 2008 at the behest of her mother, her eyes were opened to how much gender inequality there was in other parts of the world.
For Evans, who is a former U.S. national champion in freestyle skiing, using her sports background to make a difference was a no-brainer. So she founded Kids Play International, a nonprofit organization that provides "sport-for-development programs to promote gender equity in communities impacted by genocide."
"As an Olympian, I wanted to do something that would allow me to use sports to give back," Evans said. "I saw firsthand how much kids can learn through sports."
At the moment, Evans has recruited 10 other Olympic athletes, including Park City aerialist and 2014 Olympic hopeful Emily Cook, to help raise money for a multi-sport field in the Rwandan village of Gatagara.
Evans said the current field the children of Gatagara and surrounding communities are using is dangerous in more ways than one.
"Some of the kids are walking 30 to 40 minutes to get to the field," she said. "We want to build a field that's much more centralized so kids are only walking 10 to 15 minutes and can get home safely before dark."
"There are goats grazing around and eating the grass," Cook added.
But that hasn't stopped the kids' enthusiasm for sports.
"The second we showed up with sports equipment, the amount of kids that showed up was amazing," Cook said.
With coaches stationed in the area year-round teaching fundamentals and equality through KPI's Let's Play Fair iniative, Cook said the program's sustainability is what drew her interest.
"The way the program works is that it's sustainable without me and the other Olympic athletes," she said. "Our opportunity to go work with coaches who are already there is what makes it special."
Plus, Evans added, it's an opportunity to instill Olympic values into areas where gender inequality has always been the norm.
"What's cool is the core Olympic values are what Kids Play aligns itself with," she said. "Excellence giving your best when no one is looking, friendship, fair play and gender equality in both boys and girls there are a lot of great things going on. We're serving more than 120 children with hundreds of hours of sports-based programming throughout the year. And on Sundays, we host entire community events."
Though the new field is still in the fundraising stage, Cook is encouraged by the great response from the sports programs already in place.
"Seeing the joy on their faces while they were participating in these activities was amazing," she said.
The new field will cost approximately $10,000 to build, so Evans has encouraged the 10 Olympic athletes involved in the program to each raise $1,000. To donate to the Kids Play International cause, visit crowdrise.com/fieldofopportunity.
Evans, who is currently in Cambodia scouting areas for another Kids Play initiative, said she hopes the program keeps expanding.
"We basically take a one-village-at-a-time approach," she said.
For Cook, though training for the Sochi Olympics is her current focus, more volunteer trips are definitely in her future plans.
"I'm definitely committed to going back and staying connected," she said. "This is a lifelong project. I hope to stay involved in the future."
To join in on a volunteer trip, or to learn more about Kids Play International, visit kidsplayintl.org.