By Sara Dessieux
Organized sports for kids is not a thing in Haiti. Yet here we are trying to launch a youth soccer program on a massive expanse of dirt up in the hills beyond the village of Camp Marie, Haiti. Guesly has been participating in youth soccer programs in the states as an athlete and then as coach for more than thirty years. I’ve been a soccer mom for five years. We know how youth soccer programs are run. And we know Haiti. Could we make the first happen in the second? I’ve referred to it as “the big experiment”.
Now Guesly apparently does not believe in starting small. He said we’d run a program for 600 kids. We arrived back in Haiti on April 4 and we learned that only a few teams had been formed. That sounded alright to me. Start small with a manageable number. But I guess coaches were just wanting to know that the league was actually going to happen. One week later I was given a small stack of team rosters. The next day I received more as we photographed more than 200 kids. Then the next day I was given a few more and I took pictures of more kids. This week I worked like crazy to organize team lists, pictures, and uniforms. Guesly worked on creating a game schedule for the 40 teams we now had registered and assembling goals and lining out five fields for different ages. We met with the coaches and went to bed not knowing how the day would end up going.
On Saturday, April 20th our family was at the field at 7:00 AM. Two of our employees were already there. Five games were set to start at 8:00 AM. Well, games did not start on time but it seemed that in no time people were pouring in. Coaches, players, referees and a bunch of kids and some adults just coming to see the excitement. And then, yes, it felt chaotic on every level. But, games were played! Players looked awesome in their made-in-Haiti uniforms and coaches and referees took their roles seriously.
I spent most of the time in a shipping container we use for storage giving out soccer cleats for players to borrow so I did not get much chance to watch games or walk around. But every time I looked around it was pretty incredible. So many people had walked the almost one mile up our road. Coaches had loaded up their entire teams into tap-taps to bring them from neighboring towns. All for some organized soccer.
One man that we’ve known for many years came from his town a couple hours away to take part in the event. I asked what he thought of it and made my comment about how I did not know why my husband needed to start so huge. This man gushed about how no, no this is just as it should be. He said that it’s a movement. I’ve heard a number of people refer to it in this way. And as he pointed to the hills around us he said, you’re going to see houses springing up all around here. People are going to want to be a part of this.
Well, I personally hope we don’t lose the out-in-the-country feel we currently have, but I know they are probably right that this is going to be big and it’s impact is only going to keep growing. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when we’re struggling through daily things like mounting bills, national fuel shortages, endless requests for jobs, roadblocks, lack of rainfall, dry wells, insufficient facilities and equipment, and car troubles. Troubles such as these and way more are just a part of life for everyone here in Haiti. Life in Haiti is not going to get easier anytime soon but we do what we do because we to spark more hope despite the situation. We want to empower Haitian people to make their country stronger. To use this new soccer league as an example, they benefited from our ability to fundraise among people who have money to give and our ability to purchase and transport equipment and supplies. They benefited from skilled volunteers who created level playing fields and others who trained people in their community to be skilled soccer coaches. They benefited from our understanding of how sports leagues are organized and our computer skills. But then they were empowered. The Dessieux family were the only non-locals there. And in a couple weeks, they could probably do this without us. But we’re not leaving because this is only the beginning! There is more to come.