• New Generation Queens

    August 26th 2016. CAC and New Generation Queens assisted a group of high school soccer players on a trip to Zanzibar. Ben Kahrl and Toni Lansbury wrote about their visit.

    When the Zanzibari women came to the field, I recognized several of them and felt like I was meeting movie stars. In fact, I was. Riziki, Little Messi, their coach. I was living what I had seen only on the screen. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

    On a very snowy winter afternoon, eighteen months before, two varsity college soccer players had come to my classroom to talk about their experiences volunteering with Coaches Across Continents. I had seen a story about the two women on Harvard’s Athletic Department website and invited them to come and talk. They were inspiring, just a few years older than my students and going off around the world and using soccer to bridge cultural divides. They spoke of how soccer was helping break down cultural barriers, change traditions, and help gain equality in parts of the world that held traditional beliefs about the role of women in society. Then, I heard about women soccer players on Zanzibar and wondered if we could go there too, meet with them, and play a little bit of the beautiful game. Coaches Across Continents had helped Meg Shutzer make a film, “New Generation Queens” about one of the few women’s soccer teams on the island of Zanzibar. Throughout, we could see many of the challenges, and successes, of these women, in playing the game they loved. My own daughter, just thirteen, and several of my own students loved the game. I asked Meg and Nick Gates if we could take a small group of Americans to Zanzibar and play a few games. Indeed, we could and more.

    And so, a year’s worth of planning later, here we were, walking onto Zanzibar’s national stadium. We met with staff from the Ministry of Sport before taking the pitch ourselves with a group of schoolboys. The next hour was full of boisterous play, even while few of the boys spoke English and none of the Americans spoke more than two words of Swahili, but play together we did. A soccer ball in our midst, a few bilingual instructions from the coach, and we were off.

    That night, we drove to the field next to the prison, a scene that looked suddenly very familiar.

    We arrived to find energetic young boys running around, who immediately engaged our players. The sheer joy of seeing our players kicking the ball with a group of adorable six year old boys set the tone. Slowly, the Queens showed up, and there was a little bit of magic in the air. Onto the field strutted Riziki, a powerful presence in the movie and on the field. There was Messi too—another movie “star” who we were now meeting in person, almost seven months after we’d met her on screen. We mixed up the teams so that Zanzibaris and muzungus from America were on both teams, tossed the ball into the middle and were underway. The soccer was fast paced, and attracted a big crowd of passers-by –women in colorful hijabs dotted the perimeter. Men and children were cheering and clapping.

    Five minutes into the game, I found out that, however good-natured these women were, this was not just for fun, as my feet got swept out from under me and my opponent went zipping off with the ball that was no longer in my possession.  At age thirteen, my daughter was the youngest player, and, at age forty-nine, I’d lost more than a step or two. After what seemed like an hour, their coach, who was our referee, blew the whistle to signal halftime….

    One of the parents who was part of our group watched her daughter from the sidelines, as she had countless times before:

    As a parent whose daughter has been playing soccer since she was five, on recreation teams, travel and town teams, club teams and high school varsity teams, and will be playing in college this fall, I have been on the sidelines of hundreds and hundreds of soccer games. This one was different, and one I’ll always remember. With the sun beating down on us, the dirt kicking up, the little boys running with big smiles all around the field, this moment illustrated what I’ve always known to be true– that soccer is a bridge. It’s like a language everyone can speak, as soon as they can kick a ball. It matters little if the players are the same color, come from different geographical places, or religious ones, whether you’re a spectator or a player, soccer breaks down impenetrable barriers and makes a safe place for people to communicate.

    The African sun was making it hard on us, but on we played, back and forth, chattering away in Swahili and English, most of which we didn’t understand, but conversing in soccer, which we all did together. Finally, the whistle blew with a 5-5 tie. We pulled together for pictures and noticed a large crowd had gathered to see the strong woman playing soccer and the American muzungus who had joined them.

    It was the first, but not the last, game we would share.

    Two days later, Fatma Ahmed, our wondrous guide, took our team bus to another field, this one smaller, with a telephone pole planted almost exactly in the middle. A few minutes later, the Women Fighters team showed up. Again, we mixed the teams. Again the soccer was both fun and hard fought. And again, the beautiful game was the common language with us all. Afterwards, as we began to gather in the fading light for a picture, Fatma introduced us to a friend, and casually mentioned she was the coach for the Zanzibar women’s national team. Indeed.

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  • CAC in the Mountains of Rural Haiti

    February 3, 2014. We had a great week working with Association Sportives des Jeunes Filles de Fond des Blancs. First of all, Fond des Blancs is beautiful. It is surrounded by huge mountains, luscious green mango trees, blue skies and filled with smiling people.  It was a very different experience to work with a first year program, but it was really fun to see them embrace and enjoy our games and messages.  P1070564

    The coaches, of course, started out with a few good laughs when we introduced Circle of Friends on the first day. As the day went on, the coaches started to become increasingly competitive with the games and involved in the discussions afterwards.  Each day got better and by the end of the week, I could really see an improvement in the creativity in the way that they were solving the conflicts in the games we taught.  They were great in the discussions on the difference between cheating and making a mistake, the importance of being healthy, and ways to make safer sexual decisions. One thing that all the Fond des Blancs coaches really enjoyed was just playing a game of soccer. We ended the week playing a big 11 vs. 11 game with rocks as goal posts and no true out-of-bounds lines.  It was amazing to me that when someone did a handball or committed a foul there would be no discussion or conflict, even though throughout the week our games definitely caused some arguments. In the soccer game, the team that committed the fault would just give the other team the ball and the game would continue.

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    Sophie and I had a great time coaching, but Ricardo, our Community Impact Coach (CIC) from GOALS Haiti the week prior, was a super star. He was great at translating, teaching the games, and leading the discussions after the games. He was incredible at using self-directed learning as a coaching tool to make the new coaches think about solutions without giving them an answer.  He was a great help throughout the week.

    Outside of the training sessions, we had fun exploring Fond des Blancs. Sophie, Ricardo, and I were staying in a beautiful house with our host Molly, the general manager of Haiti Projects who is currently working with the Fond des Blancs girl’s soccer team. She was awesome. She always made sure we had enough food and water, and even gave us a tour of the Haiti Projects, which is an organization that employs women in order to make them self-sufficient and have easier access to health care, jobs, and education.  All of their employees send their children to school, when previously only about 17% could afford to do so.   Women also are reporting an average income increase of over 250% and earn on average 262% more than the national minimum wage. Clearly, it is an incredible organization that deserves a lot of credit for the impact they are making.  It is always great to see organizations that have similar goals to Coaches Across Continents be so successful.  Overall, it was a great week. Sophie, Ricardo and I had an awesome time coaching, sight-seeing, and learning with the exciting people of Fond Des Blancs!

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  • “Rezoud Konfli”

    IMG_4510January 30, 2014. The first thing I realized when I landed in Haiti was that for some reason Haitian kids always wanted to fight me. At first I thought a Japanese man like me was probably not welcome in Haiti, but then soon I realized that they thought I was Jackie Chan and always thus expected a display of martial arts skill. For that reason, I was kind of popular in Haiti and it was easy to be friendly with Haitian people.

    And like that, my life in Haiti started. After the amazing first week we had with GOALS Haiti in Léogâne, we moved to Port-au-Prince, where we worked with Tony Sanneh of The Sanneh Foundation and their Haitian Initiative for a full week. Tony is a former professional soccer player who played for the US in the 2002 World Cup and had an assist against Portugal. He founded The Sanneh Foundation when he was still playing as a pro in order to help the urban kids learn life skills through playing soccer, and decided to extend the program to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.

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    The week with the Haitian Initiative was very overwhelming but also fun. In the mornings from 9:00 to 12:00, we taught our drills to about sixty of the local coaches, and in the afternoon from 2:00 to 5:30 we observed the coaches using our drills to train the kids. The sessions were really long and because I was under the sun for a long time every day, I got the coolest T-shirt tan lines ever, which people actually have been telling me are the worst. However, it was totally worth working with the local coaches for that long period of time because I was able to learn three big lessons about life.

    One lesson is the importance of conflict resolution. From the first day of the week, we let them play games that were designed to simulate conflict. At first, I always wanted to get in the middle of the argument and re-explain the rules and offer a solution. However, Nora always pulled me aside and told me “let them solve their own problems” and just yelled out, “rezoud konfli!” which means to solve conflicts in Créole. By the end of the week I started to observe more leadership within the group and efforts to solve problems independently. It was a huge step forward for them, especially because the ability to think critically and solve problems is crucial for developing countries like Haiti, and until that point I never knew there was such an educating method as stepping back and observing without interfering, which had a pretty impressive effect.IMG_9488

    The second lesson I learned was that, yes, soccer is a language of the world and you can easily make tons of friends by just playing soccer, but knowing some of their language and culture gets you much closer to them. For example, I literally knew only four sentences in Créole, which were “bon travay” (good job), “san balon” (without the ball), “bay non” (give me your name) and “ou pare? on ale” (you ready? Let’s go). However, with only these four sentences, I was able to make them laugh, smile, and happy. In addition, we learned one of the Haitian traditional dance moves in the first week, and we showed it to the coaches in Port-au-Prince, and they absolutely loved that we did it. Looking back at my own life, I was always happy when random people talked to me saying “konnichiwa,” or even when they were big fans of Pokémon. I thought that when I got a chance to go abroad next, I should learn some fun sentences and dances from the country before visiting, and now I know that will definitely help me make friends.

    IMG_9867Finally, working with the Haitian Initiative made me realize that I could influence so many other lives. After working with the coaches for a week, it was obvious to my eyes that they not only had become better coaches, but also had become better educators. In the afternoon sessions where we got to observe the coaches training the kids, I could tell the way they interacted with the kids had started to change. They were encouraging kids to be more vocal, have respect for others, treat everyone equally regardless of gender, and have more fun. The funny thing is when they would shout out “rezoud konfli!” to kids when they were arguing. It was amazing to see that what we teach is directly reflected in what they teach. Because each coach had about twenty kids, that’s more than a thousand kids we had impacted. To think that we had influenced more than a thousand kids in just a week, and that we had potentially helped create a positive outlet for Haiti’s next generation of leaders is simply mind-blowing.

    Going to Haiti and working with CAC and Haitian Initiative has definitely become a life changing experience to me. This trip gave me a chance to reassess my values in life along with my future goals. These past two weeks I was always asking myself questions, but did not know answers to most of them. This trip made me really want to go back to school, and study to become a better critical thinker so that I can be better at rezoud konfli. So now I am happy that I am back at Harvard to start a new semester, but man, it is freaking cold here. I already miss Haiti and mangos.

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  • Coach Around the World This Year!

    February 27th, 2013:  Coaches Across Continents is now accepting Coach Applications to work at our global community program sites in 2013.

    Applicants are requested to fill out the Volunteer Coach Application Form (4.5.3)

    In 2012, Coaches Across Continents ran programs in 13 countries around the world and impacted more than 1,900 local coaches and teachers and more than 119,000 young people.

    You don’t have to be the greatest soccer player or coach to volunteer for Coaches Across Continents.  We are looking for the best people who can use soccer for social impact and who will represent our organization on and off the field.

    Successful applicants can volunteer for 2 weeks up to 6 months on the fields around the world.  We are looking for male and female coaches aged between 19-70 (our oldest volunteer has been 67, a former professional in England).  Applicants must be ‘adaptable’ and able to successfully run our program in developing regions.  You will work in a team of at least 2 and run the coach education from our Hat-Trick initiative curriculum.

    For more information, contact  or complete the Volunteer Coach Application Form (4.5.3).