• Mariah Lee Reflects on Trip to the DRC

    Step Up Athlete and professional soccer player, Mariah Lee, talks about her first on-field experience with CAC, advancing gender equality in the DRC. 

    I have just returned home after spending two weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While I have been a part of the Choice For Women team for more than a year now, this was my first on-field experience with CAC. For the majority of my time in the DRC, I led trainings on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Prevention at the Malaika Community Center in Kalebuka as part of a global initiative with EngenderHealth to address UN SDG 5: Gender Equality. 

    In other words, I used Purposeful Play (i.e., sport/games/play) to teach community leaders about SRHR and GBV Prevention. They will go on to lead sessions in their communities, impacting hundreds of youth across the DRC. Elvis, head of the Malaika Community Center and long-time CAC accredited coach spearheaded the sessions, and together we graduated more than 40 leaders over the course of one week. 

    Reading and hearing about what CAC does is one thing, but experiencing it firsthand is entirely different. There is something really powerful about experiential learning and using play to spark dialogue and introduce concepts. This could look like a game of tag where taggers represent a sexually transmitted disease and the safe area represents a condom. This could also be a game of soccer or handball where scoring a goal symbolizes pregnancy and goalkeepers symbolize different types of contraception. Each game is designed to stimulate discussion and incorporate participants’ ideas and solutions. 

    You might think adults wouldn’t be that excited to get outside and play games all day, but the folks we worked with were incredibly enthusiastic! Our cohort had so much energy– we danced and chanted and laughed together every day. We had our share of serious moments, too. During the week we touched on topics such as reproduction, family planning, contraception, HIV/STI protection, reproductive rights, stereotyping, inclusion, opportunity, power dynamics, and safe choices. For many participants, this was their first time broaching some of these subjects. 

    Fortunately, we were able to create a safe environment where participants were able to ask questions about stereotypically taboo topics. I was able to correct misconceptions participants held about reproduction, contraception, and female athletes. Interestingly enough, the men in our cohort were more accepting of women in sport, and it was the women who were more apprehensive. Most of the women had played soccer when they were younger but eventually stopped because of pressure from their community. They were told playing soccer would make them become infertile, turn into a boy, lose their virginity, lose their breasts, etc. I gladly busted those myths!

    Outside of our SRHR and GBV Prevention trainings, I spent the majority of my time running soccer sessions with coaches and players– including girls from the Malaika School and boys from the surrounding community. In the DRC there is no public education. Parents either have to come up with the money for school fees or their children sit at home all day– or for many– at the local football pitch. I coached many boys who had little to no formal education, where football is one of the few pathways to a better life. Malaika is a tuition-free private school for girls founded by international supermodel Noella Coursaris Munsunka. Noella, who is Congolese and Cypriot was born in the DRC, but raised in the UK after her father died. Noella’s mother, like most Congolese women, had no education and could not support her. This reality fueled Noella’s desire to create opportunities for girls and women in her home country. 

    E-meeting Noella and being welcomed by the administrators at Malaika was incredibly inspiring and further cemented my passion for empowering Black girls. Being able to impact the girls and women of the Kalebuka community is something I will never forget! 

  • Help Celebrate An Unsung CAC Hero

    October 31st 2016. If a picture is worth a thousand words then how many words is a video worth? For CAC the value of a video is immeasurable. It is a universal problem for non-profit organizations all over the world- how do you tell the story of your work simply. Without question the best way, without actually taking people directly to our programs, is through video. That is why the importance of CAC resident videographer Kevin O’Donovan can’t be underestimated. Kevin (or OD as he is commonly referred) brings CAC to life through his inspirational vision and ability. Every year OD leaves his regular life for 2 weeks and traipses to whichever far-flung location CAC request his presence. In the past this has meant charter planes in Kenya, 10 hour bus journeys to rural Uganda, bumpy roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and filming in some of the most disadvantaged areas of India and Cambodia. The destination of the CAC films in 2016 has still to be revealed…

    Now we are delighted to say that OD has been recognized for his incredible work by the Charity Film Awards who have nominated his film about our ASK for Choice initiative. BUT, we need your help to ensure he is rewarded further! We NEED you to go online and vote for this film to win the award! Click here to vote. With your help we can fully celebrate an unsung hero of CAC’s success.

    Watch the nominated video below. For more of OD’s work please go to our videos page.


  • Give Us A Problem… We’ll Address It With Sport

    August 4th 2016. CAC’s second year partnering with Menelik Education in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Problem: Corruption

    Corruption is an epidemic with greedy claws gripping the international community. Sometimes it dons an invisibility cloak. Other times it stares you straight in the eyes. When corruption made itself abundantly visible to the ignorant members of the global football family, the beautiful game felt violated. So why not use that very game to stimulate dialogue on the issue?

    Solution: Sport

    The group of coaches is split into four teams. Each team lines up behind one of four cones equidistant from each other and from the center of the space. In the center lay scattered pieces of any kind of material – cones, bibs, balls, or anything (safe) that a coach can get their hands on. On this day we have cones and bibs aplenty.

    The first task: one person at a time from each team sprints to the middle, selects one piece of equipment, brings it back to their team, tags the next person, and joins the end of their team’s line. Continue until all the equipment is out of the middle. Simple? Simple. 1-2-3-Go!

    We have a mix of misunderstanding and outright cheating. We clarify rules – one person at a time, one piece of equipment at a time, and the next person must wait until they are tagged before they go. What’s the difference between making a mistake and cheating? Great – we’re on the same page.

    Task two: This time each team has a goal of 6 pieces of equipment total and must decide how many of each type will make up the 6. For example they can set their goal at 4 cones and 2 bibs or 3 cones and 3 bibs. Then we will see which team has achieved their goal.

    We allow the teams a few minutes. We hear their goals. We take away some equipment to ensure chaos. We test their concentration with some start-when-I-say-go-1-2-3-begins. We play.


    We ask if they saw any cheating. They all point fingers at the other teams. We ask if anyone will own to cheating. A few raise hands. We praise their honesty. We ask why they think people, in general, are motivated to cheat? They discuss. We listen.

    The desire to win at all costs. Because other people are. Because everyone else is.

    How do you feel if you win by cheating? How do you feel if you lose but did not cheat? Why is the fear of failure greater than the fear of dishonesty?

    Idea pause. Let’s play again. Do you want to play with or without cheating? Without? Okay let’s give it a go.

    Third task: Same rules. But this time once all the equipment is gone from the middle you can begin taking stuff from the other teams. All previous rules remain though – one person at a time, one piece at a time, etc. If you want you can adjust your goals. One minute, then we play. 1-2-3-Go!

    Good… gooooood… okayyy… niiiice… well done… uh oh… oh no… here we go…. OH MY CHEATING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Absolute chaos. Let’s explore. What happened?

    Some more accusations. Laughter. Some honest reflections. Some delicious silence.

    Cheating was infectious. Like corruption? How do people become corrupt in your community? How can you prevent corruption? They discuss. We listen.

    The group of 30 coaches from Boma, DRC organized by CAC partner Menelik Education, was curious with a dash of skepticism that sport could be used to teach subjects like sexual health and corruption. After growing better acquainted with our methodology and several CAC games, we hope they believe in the power of sport. A power, like any, that can be bent towards destruction… unless we choose otherwise, unafraid to fail, praising honesty and vulnerability as we explore the chaos.


  • Let us play: Congo Mothers Call for Parity

    July 28th 2016. Our third year On-Field with Malaika through the eyes, ears, and words of SDL Coach and ASK for Choice Strategist, Nora Dooley.

    “Tomorrow morning we will ask a group of about sixty Congolese men what they are going to do for the women and girls in their communities. What would you like me to tell them on behalf of you, the mothers of Kalebuka?”

    It was Thursday afternoon and I was sitting in a circle with my teammates and twenty women, all mothers of children who play at Malaika’s FIFA Football for Hope Center near Lubumbashi, DRC. We had just finished the fourth day On-Field with a fantastic bunch of participants. The group was comprised mostly of returning coaches from the two previous years of CAC trainings, the vast majority being older men with clear experience in both playing and coaching football.

    Now, to massively understate, I’ve led a few CAC programs where I am in the minority as a woman. I find confidence here – almost as if the strength of all the incredible females I’ve ever met or known is fueling me in this seemingly boundless male-dominated territory. But looking around the circle at these mothers… I’ve never felt so small. I let go of all personal doubts as to what I was doing there and dove in. I had to hear them – and not just because I was selfishly eager to know even a small part of their stories, but because all week long conversations about gender equity and women’s rights were sprouting up from men. It was past time for the woman’s voice to Mingle Mingle.

    We laughed, we listened, we danced. And I carefully noted.

    The intense week with the coaches charged my emotions in this session. In four days we had explored ideas about different cultural possibilities, different organized religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and new and different ways to venture into these types of vital discussions on the football pitch. The participants were given the opportunity to identify a specific social issue and adapt or invent a game that would create space to discuss solutions. We danced through the struggles and vulnerabilities of coaching for social impact that – in my opinion – inevitably produce more beautiful music. One of the key conversations was unpacking the coaching toolbox that the participants could make use of if they so chose. A particular tool that came up repeatedly on and off the field was the use of a coach’s ears. And how as leaders we have the option to lecture or listen. The movement from the former to the latter over the course of the coaches’ practical sessions was profound. Our model, demonstrated not forced: their choice.

    They chose and chose and chose.  And we listened. After two years of Child Protection Policy trainings (bearing in mind the bulk of returning participants) and the outspoken passion these men demonstrated as they brought up gender inequalities as problems, it was time to shake things up for some localized policy design.

    The final day began with small group discussions:

    Imagine a future where women and men are treated equally: what does that look like for you?

    What is preventing this future from being reality?

    What must we do to achieve this future? What would you include in a policy/action plan for gender equity – for the rights of women and girls in your communities?

    They vehemently engaged, discussed, shared, listed, debated, agreed to disagree on some things, unanimously agreed on others. They had big ideas and some steps in mind to realize them. But there was still an essential missing piece. I told them about our meeting the previous afternoon with the mothers. I told them we had something to add on behalf of those women. I asked the men if they wanted to listen.

    They chose, once again, to use those brilliant ears and I was given a most humbling and thrilling honor of channeling the voices of these Kalebuka mothers, echoing thousands (millions?), as I read aloud their call for parity.

    “We women have all the same rights as you.”

    “Come with us, men and women together, into the community to share knowledge about girls’ and women’s rights.”

    “Let us play! You need to create space and opportunities for us and our daughters to play. If you get two days on the field… we get two days!”

    “Encourage us, and include us!”

    “We are strong, too.”

    And if I may be so bold to add… We are women, and we ASK for Choice!!!

    photo 4


  • Stories from the Malaika Foundation, Democratic Republic of Congo

    September 6th 2015. Coaches Across Continents recently worked with 140 women from the Malaika Foundation at the Kalebuka Football for Hope Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are two of their stories.


    Ladine 1

    I was born in Lubumbashi on the 20th of august 1984 in a family of 3 children. My two siblings died at a very young age and I remained the only child in the family.

    My parents were separated when I was two years old and I did not have the opportunity to know them as my mother died and my father abandoned me. I grew up with my grandparents and life was very hard and I didn’t receive any affection from their part. I am very happy because of what I learn at the center as I did not have the chance to continue my studies and even though I am married my life is still a big struggle. The center is the only thing that helps me go through each day.


    Born in 1997 I am the oldest child in a family of 7 children. My parents are both alive but unable to send all of us to school. I got pregnant and gave birth at a young age and when I heard about the center I decided to come and continue my education. I learnt a lot at the center and studied very hard but most of all I loved and still love football. Last year during the CAC training I was chosen by one of the local coaches to play in the Bana Mazembe team! This was the opening that I was looking for. Through football I am now capable of making new decisions on what I want to do and think differently about my future. The Kalebuka Football for Hope Center represents my refuge and place to learn.26s-DSC_1014


  • Perspective in Kinshasa

    CAC board member and volunteer Jamie Reilly blogs about his last of 7 weeks On-Field with Menelik in Kinshasa, DRC.

    August 26th 2015. Lawyers and soldiers. Men and women. 4 year olds and 50 year olds. The diversity of the program participants during our week in Kinshasa was unlike any other during my 7 weeks on-field with Coaches Across Continents. Given the scale and scope of challenges facing the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it makes sense that such a broad cross section of people would come together to find new ways to bring positive change to their communities.

    DRC has been the host of one of the longest and bloodiest wars since World War II, claiming over 5 million lives between 1998 and 2003. While the loss of life is tragic, the lingering trauma of the civil war continues to destabilize the lives of tens of millions more throughout the country as it struggles to move forward.

    Our partner, The Menelik Partnership for Education, was created to help bring resources and support to the most vulnerable populations in DRC.  They support schools, run orphanages, provide access to legal representation, IT training, language lessons – the list goes on – in communities throughout the DRC. Sports, and football in particular, are a key part of their efforts to change mindsets and help stop violence and discrimination against women, children and especially young girls.  

    Throughout the week we gathered in the schoolyard of the Ecole St. Georges where Menelik has it’s Kinshasa office and introduced this varied group of about 50 participants to using Sport for Social Impact. The CAC curriculum challenged the group to work together in new ways. There was no lack of enthusiasm for any of the games and activities, but at times this enthusiasm prevented participants from taking time to really understand the full scope of the activity or task. In classroom discussions, participants noted how the CAC activities – especially those focused on problem solving and conflict resolution – will help them develop better listening skills and to fully think through challenges to create the kind of future they want for DRC.

    Of equal impact were the games and discussions focused on gender equity. For many, it was their first opportunity to voice their opinion, hear a different perspective and to actually engage in a discussion about the issue.  With so many different backgrounds, there was a wide range of opinions, but as a result of the discussion, both the men and the women left with a new sense of what might be possible for girls and women in DRC.

    As Theodore Menelik drove me through the congestion of Kinshasa to catch my flight back to the US, we made a quick stop at an orphanage they run in Kinshasa. This was my second visit with these wonderful kids; we made a visit earlier in the week to play some games one afternoon.

    As the kids greeted me again with their laughter and grins, it put the past week, and my past seven weeks with CAC in perspective. Despite facing such unimaginable challenges as they start their lives, these children have so much joy, intelligence and potential. Fortunately, there are groups like the Menelik Partnership for Education that step in to give these kids a better chance at meeting those challenges. The training and support CAC provides helps create new ways of thinking, new skills and habits and new approaches for Menelik and the children they serve to solve the problems in their community. I have been privileged to join in these efforts.