WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with professional soccer player for the Washington Spirit — Joanna Lohman — who lends her support to empower youth, particularly young women, across the globe.
“We are divided and polarized as a society, but sport gives us the opportunity to come together… It doesn’t matter what race you are or what gender or what sexual preference. Everybody is on the same team, and you are all working towards similar goals,” Lohman said.
Lohman started participating in overseas empowerment in India in 2012. Since then she has worked in Thailand and Argentina. Most recently, in November 2016, the athlete traveled to Botswana.
There, the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. Department of State launched a program called Girl Power, which centered around Lohman’s work in Botswana. Lohman held on-field sessions with 30 young women aged 12-16 in Maun and Gaborone. Her goal was to help the girls feel special and realize that there “is a greater definition to what a woman can be and to what a woman can become.”
Lohman was thrilled with the community support. Players had the opportunity to train on top turf fields and were given a ball and a t-shirt. The dignitaries, including the U.S. ambassador, the Botswana representative for UNICEF and the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, eagerly played soccer alongside the girls.
Unfortunately, many girls showed up without shoes, and, although players were still eager and excited to play, many of them needed to sit out in the afternoon due to the 100-degree weather and the heat of the turf. In the immediate moment and with the support of the community, Lohman and dignitaries were able to gather extra shoes and socks for the players to use. The situation shocked Lohman as well as the U.S. ambassador, who promised to get shoes for all of the young women.
Lohman described one of the proudest moments of her life as the moment when, a few months after her visit, the young women she had worked with were presented with soccer cleats in a ceremony with the ambassador and local marines.
“For these girls to be picked out from their communities and celebrated, I think that’s something that’s incredibly moving. I was so happy to be part of that.”
Lohman’s work in Botswana also focused on the coaches. “Teaching the teachers,” as she describes, is an important part of sustainability and long term impact of the program.
Lohman wants her visits and her programs to give a voice to young women, by empowering them to believe in greater things. She wants young women to know that “being a woman doesn’t mean that you have to be silent. You can be heard and have a voice; you can contribute to your community.”
As a professional soccer player, Lohman hopes that the universal sport continues to inspire young women as more and more countries with women’s teams have the opportunity to play on the global stage.
“The more role models that we can get on the world stage and the more exposure that we have, the more eyes will see it and it will inspire and motivate a lot of young women to want to work towards something,” Lohman explained. Although not everyone aspires to be a professional athlete, “it’s about having the confidence and the self-worth to work towards a dream.”
Lohman’s work in Botswana is not the end. She is now planning trips to the Ivory Coast and to Indonesia.
– Francesca Montalto