• He for She with Isha Vidhya

    December 15, 2014. Senior Staff, Nora Dooley, shares her thoughts on our last program in India for 2014 with the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore, India.

    “Can men take care of babies?” – “YES!”

    “Can men cook and clean?” – “YES!”

    “Can men stay at home while women work?” – Another, resounding, “YES!”

    Thirty men and boys in perfect unison; they chant, “YES” for gender equality. And three women sigh and shake their heads.

    For my final program of 2014, I return to Coimbatore for the third year of our partnership with the Isha Foundation. This year sees some familiar faces from years past, but the majority of the participants are new to CAC. We have a nice mélange of teachers and students, adding depth and energy to every game and discussion.

    We do not have a nice mélange of gender.

    An easy choice by both parties – CAC and Isha – gender equity quickly became this year’s priority. Such a nice term, ‘gender equity’. Equity. Equality. But what does it mean? To you? To me?

    Many cheer for equality, but few take the time to find their personal motive for why we need to empower women and girls.

    So we play. And play and play. Marta Skills for Life. Mia Hamm Skills for Life. Who is Marta? Who is Mia Hamm?

    Powerful. Female. Role Models.

    Marta for Gender Equity: How can we get more girls on the pitch? If you score a goal, use your voice to empower your teammates – “You can do it!”, they shout. Rapinoe for Gender Equity: Four words for the ideal man: “Strong!” “Legend!” “Noble!” “Superior!” The four teams stand in four corners on the pitch, one for each word. When I call two words the groups standing in the corresponding boxes switch places as fast as possible – running, skipping, dancing, like animals, with a ball. Now four words for your ideal woman: “Beautiful!” “Gentle!” “Smart-look!” “Colorful!” We play again.

    Falcao for Gender Equity: One team has three goals to score on; the other team only has one. We play. “Is this game fair?” “No!” Suarez for Gender Equity: Three goals at each end that represent words that empower girls. The participants call out, “education!”, “employment!”, and “choice!”. Everybody must walk and if they score a goal and shout the empowering word, they can run. Perpetua for Gender Equity: What are some traditional roles for men in your community? – Driver, builder, farmer, fisherman, businessman, army, shoemaker, barber. And women? – Beauty parlor, housewife, baby-care, cooking, cleaning, nurse, stitching. When I call out a job – the players assigned that role run onto the field and play 2v2, 4v4, etc. We play.

    I ask:

    “Can men be beautiful?” – “YES!”

    “Can men take care of babies?” – “YES!”

    “I see you shaking your head, Lakshmi (a participant for all three years of CAC programs), why?”

    “Because I do not see.”

    And therein lies the rub.

    There is too often an abyss between policy and practice. Between awareness and behavior. I know unprotected sex is the leading cause of HIV, and yet? I know I am not legally allowed to hit this child with a stick when she misbehaves, and yet?

    I know I’m supposed to jump on the #femaleempowerment / #genderequality / #heforshe bandwagon… and?

    How do we bridge this daunting gap? With a ball, perhaps?

    We think so. By the end of the program it felt more like the male-dominated group actually believed in what they were saying, and the women were standing up for themselves. It is a slow, uphill trek, but probably the most important climb in the world.

    So, can men take care of babies? Can women play football?

    YES! … if that is their choice. What is yours?


  • Aummmmmmmmm… CAC Sits Cross-Legged in Coimbatore

    November 27, 2013. Twenty-eight hours on a train later, CAC coaches, Sophie Legros and Nora Dooley, joined by Community Impact Coach (CIC) Homkant Surandase from Slum Soccer, arrive safely in the southern Indian city of Coimbatore.  As is the story with each new week in the life of Coaches Across Continents, this week working with a group from the Isha Foundation would follow the same plot, similar only in its difference from all other programs.

    20131115_094651Our involvement with the Isha Foundation stems from their environmental Beyond Sport award-winning venture called Project GreenHands. An initiative that motivates members of the community to plant trees for the sake of providing shade during football matches, the Project’s innovation is inspiring and makes for a great opportunity to unite our programs around a shared interest in community development. This is our second year working with a group connected to Isha, though few were part of last year’s training.

    The school we worked and stayed at during our time in the south, Isha Vidhya, is one of the many schools funded by the Isha Foundation, a charitable body that is funded by the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore. Physical Education teachers from Isha schools, as well as welfare volunteers from the ashram joined our team for the week of training at Isha Vidhya. With such an eclectic group of adults ranging from doctors and yoga instructors to teachers and only one football coach, we knew from the outset this would be an interesting week.

    P1050829After just one morning of learning our Ronaldo games, the first time learning any football skills for the majority of the group, the Isha participants taught some of the games to students from the school later that same afternoon. Our CAC team was blown away by the manner in which these men and women coached the students. It was obvious they were used to working with children, but never having coached football before, let alone football for social impact, this group rose to the challenge and seriously delivered. Day in and day out, early morning sessions saw all participants eager to learn CAC games, with the afternoons focused on implementation with various classes of learners from Isha Vidhya. Each day the brand-new coaches impressed our team more and more as they grew comfortable with the notion of sport for social development.

    CAC coaches spent the weekend after the training at the Yoga Center or familiarly, the ashram, and gained a better understanding of the wide world of Isha. Sitting cross-legged during meals, men separated from the women, eating in complete silence, taking your shoes off before entering every establishment… it was certainly a new experience for our team and one that taught us a great deal about a different lifestyle and even more about ourselves. It may not be the life for us but it helped us gain a more complete perspective of the Isha Foundation, and the lifestyles of some of the participants of the training.

    We are excited about the future of this partnership, as progress from last year to this year is already visible. Our hope is for CIC, Homkant, together with Slum Soccer, to begin working with Isha throughout the year, assisting them in their sport for development initiatives.