I've had the pleasure to have volunteered with Soccer Without Borders since 2008, and I know first hand what an incredible difference they make in the lives of newcomer and refugee youth throughout the USA. I started volunteering as a summer camp soccer coach with SWB in Oakland, CA. The Soccer Without Borders soccer camp was a highlight both of my summers and those of the many incredible children I got to know and coach. In Oakland the camps brought together students who had found their way to California from all parts of the world, We had students from Myanmar, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, to name just a few. While their love for soccer brought these children together, SWB's camp was about so much more than soccer. We had activities that helped the kids build community and trust across cultures and languages. Inside the comfortable and safe space of a soccer field, the students also learned more English, found new friends, and discussed how to live a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally, in their city and neighborhoods. I've watched as SWB has grown and been able to provide more and more opportunities for support in summer and throughout the year. For the fortunate refugees and newcomers who have access to SWB, the organization now provides robust support to them and their families year round.My favorite moments with SWB always include seeing kids from totally different parts of the world, who share a history of turbulence, upheaval, and trauma, bonding together, laughing, and finding joy in their new home country. This doesn't happen by accident. SWB is so conscientious about how they train their staff and volunteers to run great youth programs and also how to be refugee/newcomer/trauma sensitive. I've also had the chance to see what an impact SWB can make for students over many years. I rejoice when I see that students who I coached almost 10 years ago, who could hardly speak a word of English and felt very shy, are now coaches themselves - helping to promote a program that helped them.Soccer Without Borders is an incredible nonprofit that is doing amazing work with some of the most vulnerable youth in our country.
The Fighting Illini soccer team recently partnered with the Soccer Without Borders program for an amazing 10 day trip to Nicaragua. We were able to host clinics and work with young children and schools in Granada. The Illini also had the opportunity to spend a few days in Managua where the team had the opportunity to train with and compete against the Nicaragua Women's National team and the Nicaragua U-20 Women's National team. In addition to their time on the field, the Illini had some time to explore some of the beauty that the Nicaragua landscape has to offer. Below, the squad reflects on their time in Nicaragua. You can see from the athletes comments below it was an incredible life experience for the players. I can not thank SWB enough for facilitating this amazing experience and for the work that they do empowering young women in Granada and around the world. THANK YOU!!!!!
"Our 10-day trip to Nicaragua was an incredibly eye-opening experience. From the moment we arrived in Granada, the local girls and families generously opened up their hearts and homes to us. Although most of us are not the best Spanish speakers, the language of soccer was able to bring us together to form friendships full of smiles and laughter. The way these girls displayed their passion and love for the game left me feeling excited for the following day's adventure. The shared experience of soccer not only introduced us to some talented Nicaraguans, but this journey brought us closer together as a team. The bonds forged with the Fighting Illini Soccer team and these inspiring girls and women will be remembered for the rest of our lives."
"I am very grateful for this experience, I think we grew as individuals and as a team. I hope we had as much of an impact on the kids' lives as they made on ours. Also, I cannot thank the Soccer Without Borders staff enough for their hospitality."
"Hopefully we can contribute to growing their passion for the game" -Jaelyn Cunningham
"Our trip to Nicaragua was amazing. It was amazing to see the passion and love of the game in the children's eyes, and it reminded me why I started playing soccer in the first place! Despite the language barrier between us, it was so cool to see how the kids' faces would light up when we interacted with them, it's amazing how just a little bit of time can have such an impact on others. It was also such a unique experience to get to train with and compete against the National team and share our collective passion of the game!"
"Getting to travel to Nicaragua in general was quite an experience, but getting to travel there with a program (SWB) that focuses on the empowerment of girls, was an even greater experience. The early mornings and long days were well worth it, in exchange for the smiles we got to put on the faces of the young girls in the program. From living in home stays, to playing the U20 and Nicaraguan Women's National Teams, to touring the city, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in a culture that is much different than our own."
"I had a wonderful experience in Nicaragua with both the Illini soccer team and the staff and the kids in the Soccer Without Borders program. It was really fun just to go out and see the smiles on the children's faces when we practiced and played pick-up games with them. This trip made me realize how fortunate I really am, and I couldn't be anymore grateful for the experience."
"Even though Illini Soccer is leaving Nicaragua, Nicaragua will never leave our hearts."
"I had an incredible experience in Nicaragua! Having the opportunity to use the platform of soccer to encourage and empower young girls was special to be a part of. I hope that we were able to touch and impact the lives of the people we came in contact with because I know I left Nicaragua changed forever in a positive way."
"On the 10th day in Nicaragua, I took some time to reflect on our trip while kayaking. During that time, I was just reminiscing on the week and really taking it all in. I realized that, yes, it was tough at times but this trip was something I will never forget and hopefully I will come back. Writing this, I already miss the smiling faces of the girls, and Pablo and Nicholas from the neighborhood. These people have very little but are always happy and smiling. I remember one time Pablo and Nicholas came to Tres Pisos and hadn't even eaten lunch yet. They were hungry, but were still smiling, laughing and joking like they had not a care in the world. I want to come back here and potentially take a larger role in helping and changing the lives of others."
"I had such an amazing time experiencing the culture and beauty of Nicaragua with the team! Working with the kids was, by far, my favorite part because you saw how a simple action went such a long way. These kids showed such a love for the game that inspired all of us to not only try to see the best in every situation, but also reconnect with the love for the game within ourselves!"
"Nicaragua was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hearts were touched, friends were made, and new perspectives were obtained, all while sharing our love for soccer."
"Nicaragua provided us with an unforgettable experience. The country as a whole has opened our eyes to so much more. Even though the Soccer without Borders girls spoke a different language, we were all able to share laughs and smiles while playing the sport we love."
"Nicaragua was a great experience for our team, I think that we really took advantage of the opportunity to empower young women by setting an example during their practices and during our games against the Nicaraguan national teams. I hope that we left a lasting impression in the young girls' minds that will motivate them to continue to pursue their love for soccer."
"Nicaragua was a very eye-opening experience. It was amazing to see how the people in Granada and Managua lived their day-to-day lives, and it definitely made me appreciate what I have and the opportunities I have been given."