TACOMA, Washington — Sports are an effective way to ameliorate the conditions of poverty in developing countries. Implementing sports programs or networks of competitive teams in impoverished communities provide opportunities to gain life skills. These new skills and community can then be utilized to overcome hurdles thrust on those living in poverty. In Haiti, soccer is one sport sparking hope for rural communities to rise out of poverty. GOALS Haiti is one organization specifically demonstrating how sports can be used as a tool to fight poverty.
The Positive Impacts of Sports
Some of the most significant effects of playing sports from a young age onward is confidence and a positive mentality. When people engage in sports, they develop confidence and learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Additionally, sports can benefit the physical and mental health of the athletes. These tools not only provide athletes with the means of escaping poverty but can potentially lift up entire families and communities from a state of poverty.
Beyond the direct effects that sports may have on participants, sporting events can garner economic value within communities. Popular sporting events have the ability to draw in large crowds that can then flood the area with economic interest. As a result, communities and even entire countries can benefit from economic growth. Today, many organizations work to empower poor communities throughout developing nations with the help of sports, including GOALS Haiti.
GOALS Haiti, which stands for Global Outreach and Love of Soccer Haiti, works directly with multiple remote communities in Haiti. The organization brings children and community members together through a mutual love for the game of soccer. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Executive Director of GOALS Haiti, Kathy McAllister, spoke about the many positive effects that GOALS Haiti’s soccer program has had on communities in rural Haiti.
McAllister stated, “[GOALS Haiti] has heard from the community that there is less in-fighting and conflict because the kids have learned from a young age how to resolve conflicts in a positive way and communicate better.” She also discussed how domestic violence and teenage pregnancy have dropped. McAllister stated, “In other rural communities teenage pregnancy is at 7% and in the villages where GOALS [Haiti] works, it is under 1%.” These factors illustrate the tremendous impact that GOALS Haiti has in alleviating poverty within rural communities. Through this framework, GOALS Haiti exemplifies the potential that sports programs can have in other impoverished communities around the world.
Soccer, Education and Community Service
Soccer is the first of three main elements that make up GOALS Haiti. The organization provides the necessary equipment, food and water for daily soccer practices. Additionally, GOALS Haiti organizes tournaments and friendly matches between the 12 teams involved in the program and with other local teams in the area. Along with soccer, GOALS Haiti participants partake in educational programs and community service.
The organization’s integrative approach to community wellness is showcased by incorporating “education on social justice issues into some of the soccer games.” McAllister explained, “A game can have a focus on conflict resolution, gender equality or disease prevention and will teach a certain lesson, devoting part of the game to a discussion about the issue.” In terms of service, McAllister details how participants in GOALS Haiti “give back to their community through a variety of service projects, such as beach cleanups, recycling, planting trees and by having a community garden.”
The organization also provides health and hygiene seminars, weekly language lessons and a scholarship program to its participants. Further, the young athletes as well as their families are encouraged to partake in the organization’s literacy program. “We don’t necessarily have one goal of eradicating poverty,” McAllister states. However, the organization’s focus on gender equality, better health and wellbeing and climate action all factor into poverty reduction.
Leading by Example
By providing poor communities in rural Haiti with a soccer program, educational material and community service initiatives, GOALS Haiti has contributed to several efforts related to poverty reduction in Haiti. On top of drops in crime rates, domestic violence and teenage pregnancies in rural Haitian communities, McAllister remarked, “I think the biggest change we can see that’s a little harder to measure is in mentality.” There was a positive correlation between fitness and emotional health as well as various other empowerment strategies employed by GOALS Haiti, which has resulted in productive change in the collective mindset of the community and its individual members. GOALS Haiti significantly helps its participants develop self-confidence and motivation through its soccer program and other strategies.
Sports are a simple way to make a big difference in fighting poverty. GOALS Haiti is an example of the potential impact sports can have on global poverty reduction. Several measured changes seen in the communities GOALS Haiti works within validate the organization’s successful approach to alleviating poverty. Members of GOALS Haiti continuously give back to their communities and have “seen a shift in what members of the communities think about being an engaged citizen.” Hopefully, GOALS Haiti’s mission can be replicated worldwide to pull impoverished communities out of poverty and create a more equitable society.
– Eliza Kirk