Larkin Brown Mentored Nicaraguan Girls Through Soccer

By practicing soccer in Nicaragua, Larkin Brown, Teaching Fellow in Spanish, helped disadvantaged girls translate life skills learned in soccer to real life situations. Brown spent a year in Granada, Nicaragua as an intern at Soccer Without Borders (SWB) from 2010 to 2011. SWB is a non-profit organization that uses soccer to address community and social issues and encourages personal growth and discovery for marginalized youth. SWB runs many programs in domestic and international sites across the globe, utilizing a combination of local residents and external coordinators to ensure that programs reflect the needs of particular communities, according to the organization’s website. In Nicaragua, Brown worked with SWB to inspire and empower girls in the largely male-dominated Latin American society. Brown coached soccer practices for the girls three times a week. “Playing sports is healthy and naturally enhances self-esteem and body image, but also provides opportunities [for girls] to step into leadership positions, work in a team and develop confidence,” said Brown. In addition, Brown held activity nights three or four times a week where girls could share personal stories, play games and bond with one another. Brown said, “[This] safe space quickly became a space to practice being thoughtful, [and to] learn how to express identity at individual and group levels.” Brown said that the discussions inspired the girls to dream about their futures. Though she respected the fact that many of the girls wanted to be homemakers or mothers, she said that “they didn’t believe that they had any other option.” “Ever since we’ve been young, we’ve always been asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ These girls have never been asked that, they don’t know how to dream,” said Brown. As Brown continued her work at SWB, she saw many girls transform and gain confidence. During her Senior year at Bowdoin College, Brown raised money for her trip to Granada and departed in July 2010. “It’s not enough to be superficially part of a community, what really fires me up is knowing people and their stories,” Brown said. She continued, “I think it is special to be able to communicate and listen in different languages and I realized that in Nicaragua I could employ my Spanish speaking skills, but that I could also use soccer as a way to communicate and understand people. Brown’s experience in Nicaragua later inspired her to become a teacher. “I saw how low quality teaching can contribute to the cycle of poverty in a young person’s life and how good teaching can be the door that opens to a better life and a better world,” she said. As a Spanish teacher and a Girls Varsity Soccer coach, Brown seeks to share her SWB experience with the Andover community. Brown hopes that students will recognize how they can translate the skills they have acquired at Andover to the SWB program. “Getting involved in SWB is a genuine opportunity to empower youth while learning and growing alongside of them,” she said. “Helping [the girls] practice setting goals and dreaming big helped me see how special it is that we grow up with those skills. There is so much dreaming to be done in the world, not just through SWB.” There are only a few job opportunities for high school students as teaching jobs such as Brown’s are only available for college-aged students. However, SWB will hold its annual co-ed camp for high school students in Granada this July. Applications have been released for the program. In addition, students can also become ambassadors for SWB to help fundraise for the program. There are other Soccer Without Borders domestic sites in Maryland, California, Colorado, and New York, as well as international sites in Guatemala, Egypt, El Salvador and Uganda, where the program works with youth in refugee communities. Brown said, “Change does not happen overnight, but by working with women and girls at the rest of the SWB sites and helping them to dream and practice dreaming big, change is inevitable.”