Geller and Sirek take part in sport-based youth development in Haiti
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I stepped outside of the Port-au-Prince airport, took a deep breath in, and admired the full moon. I was comforted knowing that it was the same moon my family and friends were looking at. I hopped into the truck that would drive us to our guest house, our home for the next six days. During the drive, there I smelled burning garbage, heard dogs barking and cars honking, and drove past groups of little children who stared as we went by.
Once we arrived at the house, we unpacked and sat with our group for dinner and a meeting. We shared our hopes for the SportsUnited: International Sports Initiative trip, and finally St. Paul Academy and Summit School alumnus, CEO of The Sanneh Foundation, and director of the Haitian Initiative Tony Sanneh (‘90) left us with one final remark.
“Do good,” Sanneh said.
As stated in the SportsUnited: International Sports Initiative:
“The purpose of the U.S. Department of State SportsUnited: International Sports Programming Initiative Mutual Exchange Program is to use sports to help under served youth around the world to develop important leadership skills, achieve academic success, and promote tolerance and respect for diversity.”
The Sanneh Foundation is one of ten organizations chosen to lead with the Department of State’s SportsUnited program. Jennifer Ridgeway, CAO and executive vice president of The Sanneh Foundation, describes HI as being parallel with The Sanneh Foundation’s purpose.
“The ultimate goal of the HI program aligns with The Sanneh Foundation’s mission to empower kids, improve lives, and unite communities. HI uses soccer as a catalyst to provide education, nutritious meals, health and wellness support in a positive and culturally relevant setting. School attendance and passing grades are a requirement to participate in the HI program. The program’s goal is for youth to play together on the field, learn together in the classroom, work together in the community and live together in harmony in the world,” Ridgeway said.
A typical day began with a visit to the HI building in Cite Soleil to help the children in their English classes. After that, we would walk to the soccer field and play soccer with the children.
Sophomore Greta Sirek, who also went on the trip, describes the program as organized and rewarding.
“The organization of the program surprised me; while the 6-year-olds were learning, the middle-aged children were playing soccer while the older children ate. The Haitian Initiative program was a well-oiled machine, and I am so thankful the athletes, students and coaches accepted us into their amazing program,” Sirek said.
Giving the youngest children new HI clothing is the most significant thing I did while on this trip. Sanneh asked the girls playfully if they wanted new uniforms for soccer, to which they all exclaimed “yes” with excitement filling their faces. Sirek and I passed out the new clothes to the girls and helped them change. This was a monumental moment in their lives because it was likely the first time they had ever received new clothing. After giving them their uniforms, we were able to join their very first soccer practice.
“I was super excited to see them play in the uniforms. When I arrived to the fields, all the young boys and girls came running up to us, giving us hugs, and some even remembered our names. While they patiently waited for their practice to start, I could tell they were so excited to have their first practice,” Sirek said. “All of the girls’ appreciation for the Haitian Initiative appeared in their constant smiles and willingness to participate. I am so glad I was able to meet these hard-working children, and although they may not remember me, I will forever remember their genuine smiles.”
Ridgeway describes the trip as being unique to any other trip students could take to Haiti. Unlike mission-related trips, Haitian Initiative is a non-denominational program.
“This trip affords students exposure to sport-based youth development.The Haitian Initiative utilizes the power of sport to connect communities.Our positive sport-based youth development program offers an opportunity for youth to experience sport, life, and leadership skills in a safe, fun, and supportive environment,” Ridgeway said.
Although six short days is certainly not enough time to leave a huge impact, I do wholeheartedly believe I ”did good” through my work with the children in the program.