• What Do Soccer, Mines & Jars Have in Common?

    CAC SDL coach and monitoring and evaluation strategist Sophie Legros talks about her week in Laos with Spirit of Soccer.

    February 13th 2015. I have to confess that prior to this past week, I knew very little about the country of Laos. Laos has the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. In consequence, Laos has one of the most extensive unexploded ordnance

    (UXO) problems in the world. The workshop with Spirit of Soccer (SOS) was taking place in Xieng Khouang Province, one of the most heavily contaminated provinces in the country.

    SOS is the international NGO that uses soccer to empower and educate young people about the dangers of mines in places that have experienced either past or current conflict. They use soccer as a vehicle to pass on crucial mine-risk education (MRE) messages to children and communities. The key messages of the week were “Keep Away” (or ‘Yu Hang’ in Lao), “Don’t Touch” (‘Ham Jub’), “Report” and “Communicate.”

    In addition to understanding more about Lao culture and history, I learned about the different types of weapons, the mine clearance process, the risks a community faces and what constitutes good and bad behaviors from experts from all over the world. The management team consisted of a multicultural delegation of experts in various fields from Iraq, Lebannon, the UK, the USA and Hong Kong. If that wasn’t enough, SOS brought together 40 female coaches from four countries across South East Asia (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar) to train them in how to use soccer to help stop children from being killed and maimed by land mines and UXO across the region.

    Alternating soccer sessions and classroom workshops in coaching and MRE theory, provided the participants – and the staff – with a comprehensive toolbox to provide quality MRE through soccer, impact their community and save lives. The five-day workshop culminated in a soccer and MRE festival for 200 local Lao girls where the female coaches led soccer and MRE sessions.

    Many of the women are already leaders in their communities and it was inspiring to hear their perspectives and see them integrate MRE messages that they will use to educate the children in their community that are at daily risk from the millions of unexploded bombs and landmines that litter South East Asia.

    SOS’s philosophy is that because of the huge popularity of soccer in the region, it is a powerful way to attract children and communicate vital safety messages. I truly appreciated the experience working with SOS and the entire management team and learning about new ways soccer is impacting lives around the world. Although Lao and MRE are less of an unknown to me, I continue to ponder the mystery of the giant stone jars that are scattered throughout the region. Most common legends are that they were used for brewing huge quantities of rice wine or that they contained human remains. Interestingly, only a few of the plain of jars sites have been found because of the multitude of UXO that have not yet been cleared.