Four years ago the Haitian Health Foundation embarked upon a bold effort using participation in a girl’s soccer program as a reward for completing a course in responsible sexuality. The result has been a movement and the establishment of the first organized women’s soccer league in Haiti.
After first reporting this story in a Healthy Sports feature last year, many local citizens and institutions have provided assistance in the form of monetary donations and equipment. Thanks to this support, the program has spread to more remote areas of Haiti and nearly 1,700 girls are enrolled in this year’s course. When taking into consideration past graduates, there will be a total of 52 teams of girls ages 13-19 playing this summer.
What these athletes lack in equipment they make up for in desire and effort. In many villages it has become a source of parental pride to have a daughter play for a team. Empowerment and confidence are two of the attributes that are readily apparent when chatting with players.
Although this program has developed a healthy outlet for these women in regard to personal fitness, the question of whether or not it has resulted in healthier sexual practices remains. Studies comparing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy before the program and since are ongoing. Initial reports, although anecdotal, indicate both these parameters are declining since the program started.
Dr. Jeremiah Lowney is founder and president of the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation. “Athletic participation is always a positive distraction for young people. The girl’s soccer league in rural Haiti will result in a healthier population of future mothers. They also receive health information to pass onto their daughters. This program will span generations,” said Lowney.
If you wish to find out more about the HHF soccer program or make a financial or equipment donation, the blog is www.hhfsoccer.wordpress.com and the website is www.haitianhealthfoundation.org.