Teaching soccer a world away

Six members of the women’s soccer team pose together in Narok, Kenya over spring break.
Six members of the women’s soccer team pose together in Narok, Kenya over spring break. Photo by Sarah Scott.

The first thing women’s soccer midfielder Kate Macauley ’11 noticed when she arrived at Ole Sankale Primary School in Narok, Kenya was the lack of dust in the air on the girls’ soccer field. As she took to the turf during spring break to lead nearly 100 high school-aged Kenyan girls in a soccer clinic, she noticed that the field had only been lightly used, whereas the boys’ field seemed as if a permanent cloud of dust hung over it.

She said it was apparent that the boys had been playing more soccer than the girls. In the Masai tribe, to which the students belonged, girls are not often given the opportunity to play sports competitively because it does not fit with their societal norms.

In order to help break those beliefs, Macauley and five of her women’s soccer teammates, captain Becky Brown ’11, Kristen Forster ’13, captain-elect Miyuki Hino ’12, Enma Mullo ’12 and Natalie Romine ’11, traveled to the school, serving as role models for the girls. Over the course of two days, the players answered questions from the girls about their experiences at Yale, held a soccer clinic to develop their skills and organized a soccer tournament to encourage healthy competition.

Hino spearheaded the girls’ privately organized and funded trip to Kenya. Since Hino’s father, Hiroyuki Hino, has worked in Kenya as the economic adviser to its prime minister, Brown said the desire to go to Kenya with the support of Hino’s expertise was a natural one.

As they started planning their trip, the teammates realized that adding a community service component was not only feasible, but also worthwhile. Romine said that as six members of the women’s soccer team traveling to Kenya, it made sense to use their soccer skills to connect with a local community.

“[The Masai] tend to resist change put on them by external forces,” Hino said. “For their girls especially, gender quality is still an issue in that tribe.”

Despite this resistance, the trip participants were warmly received by the school administration, Romine said.

Hino worked with her father and Koitamet Olekina, a board member of the Ole Sankale Primary School, to bring together students at five all-girls boarding schools for the two-day event. Ruth Solitei, an alumna of the Ole Sankale Primary School who has served as the ambassador to China for Kenya, was also in attendance.

Additionally, Hino’s parents presented each of the schools with a scholarship to be awarded to a girl who embodies the scholar-athlete ideal.

Despite the gender inequality the Masai girls face, Romine said she was struck by the incredible drive the girls had to improve their lives. Macauley added that she did not expect the girls to have such similar hopes and aspirations to her own, given the poverty in the area.

“At the end of the day, even though we were coming from totally different worlds, we could relate to these girls,” Macauley said. “There weren’t nearly as many boundaries as I had expected to encounter. Just having a conversation with someone was surprisingly informal.”

In the panel discussion with the girls, Romine said they received many questions asking what it is like to be a scholar-athlete and their path to Yale. The six players then put their words into action, showing the girls various soccer drills.

“Playing sports is a really good confidence builder,” Hino said. “It does a lot for what you think you can do. The big thing we were trying to convey was the power of working together in terms of what it can do for you and what it has done for us.”

Hino added that with the tournament, she and her teammates also showed the value of competition. She said there is a significant difference in personal fulfillment between kicking around a soccer ball with friends and scoring a goal in a game situation.

In a letter to the members of the women’s soccer team who led the clinic, Olekina wrote, “The festival also awoke the human competitive spirit hitherto sleeping in our girls at both primary and secondary school levels.”

Olekina added in his letter that he hopes to broaden the number of schools included in the soccer tournament as well as make it an annual tradition.

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