Let the girls play on in Africa
August 31, 2010
Girls in Tanzania are playing soccer right now because of Parkite Alyssa von Puttkammer.
She recently returned from a service trip to the African nation with the Park City-based Center for Global Leadership. Now a Tufts University student, von Puttkammer said she’s always believed sports to be a great way to empower girls.
When the Center for Global Leadership encouraged her to come up with a way to make the world a better place, she decided to host a soccer camp for African girls.
When she arrived last month, she said, she learned to her dismay that schools go year-round there. None of the students would have the time to attend a regular soccer camp, so she improvised.
With the support of a public school and a private school for orphans and impoverished children in a small village, she established five teams in essence, a league.
She gave them uniforms and new balls even shoes if they needed them. She taught them drills and ways to practice. When she left, she had assurances from the schools they would make it possible for the five teams to begin playing one another.
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Many of the girls needed to be taught the rules, von Puttkammer said, because sports are dominated by boys in the community.
When she arrived with the balls, the boys assumed they were for them and intruded on the training.
"The boys asked why the girls were playing. They said to give them the balls," she said. "It is a weird culture where girl sports are not equal. That was interesting. The girls loved it and were smiling the entire time."
It took a few days for everyone to get used to the idea that the girls were to be allowed space on the practice field and to be left alone.
"When the girls practiced everyone came over and was like, "What’s going on?" she said.
Many aid organizations now agree that empowering women in a community is a precursor to successfully improving the economy, sanitation and educational system. von Puttkammer said playing soccer was a major influence on the development of her character. The goal of the program was to bring that to girls in Africa.
The experience has influenced her plans for the future, von Puttkammer said.
For some time she’s had a goal of going into the medical field. Once she has her degree, she plans to travel and help people in other countries, perhaps with Doctors Without Borders, she said.
Another lesson learned from the trip is the value of leaving something with a lasting legacy. von Puttkammer said when she becomes a doctor, she plans to give training to the people she works with so they can continue serving after she’s gone.
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