Monday, April 1, 2013

Bending it like Beckham!

Even before getting on the plane to come to Senegal, I wanted to start a girls’ soccer team during my service. I loved playing soccer when I was a kid and still enjoy playing recreationally as an adult. I also wanted to find a way to empower girls in my community. My dad, who was my soccer coach when I was in elementary school, was very supportive of the idea and held a soccer ball drive before I left for Peace Corps. He successfully collected a bunch of soccer balls from his soccer teammates for me to use with a soccer team in Senegal. I carried some balls over in my luggage, and he sent me many more in subsequent care packages. He also sent me a bag of pennies with 2 different colors that would be great for scrimmages. 

I spent my first year and a half in Nafadji and never found the opportunity to start a soccer team there. I gave my host family a couple of soccer balls, which we would play around with, but I never found a group of girls who were motivated to play regularly.

My first week in Saraya, I spent a lot of time with my new 12-year-old host sister, Maimouna Damba, and learned that she loves playing soccer. We watched Bend it Like Beckham together on my laptop, and she was inspired by the movie and wanted to become just as good at soccer as the main character. We devised a plan together and decided to create a soccer team of her and her friends. I asked her to find girls who were interested in playing and to figure out a good time for our practices. Within a week, she presented me with a list of 12 girls who were interested in playing.

Our next obstacle was choosing a time when girls would be free. Girls in this country have very little, if any, free time. If they are not at school, they are pounding grain, washing dishes, sweeping, cooking, doing laundry or taking care of younger children. Since girls have to prepare for dinner in the evening, we found that the best time for everyone to meet was at 3pm on days where the girls didn’t have classes in the afternoon. We practiced for an hour and then the girls went home to wash dishes and prepare dinner. 

At our first practice, 10 of the girls showed up, and the level of excitement and enthusiasm about playing soccer was high. Not only was this a time for them to play and improve their soccer skills, but it also gave them a chance to play with their friends and have an hour during the day where they were not in school or doing chores. We passed the ball around and scrimmaged, and by the end of the practice, the girls were begging me to play again the following day. 

Little Maimouna Dansokho playing goalie

Our practices have been informal, and we play on days that work for the girls. Sometimes we play twice a week, sometimes just once, and some weeks I haven’t been in Saraya. The girls have so much fun, and as time goes on, I have seen that the girls have become much more confident in their soccer abilities. Maimouna is a strong player and can get pretty aggressive on the field. I played opposite her the other week, and she almost knocked me over! 

The girls’ soccer team has been a great way for me to get to know some of the girls in Saraya and to give them the opportunity to play soccer. Thank you so much to those of you who donated soccer balls a couple of years ago! They have gone to a great group of girls, and my Saraya site mate, Annē, would like to continue the team after I leave. Maimouna can’t quite bend it like Beckham yet, but she is determined to get there!

Bine and Maimouna, our top players!


  1. Hi Marielle......I'm still really sad to miss you this weekend in Seattle (but I'll see lots of your little sister so that's a big compensation!). OH.....and your parents! The soccer post is a nice story....I donated some soccer ball money to some kids I saw in the slum in Liberia (hard to believe that's almost 2 years ago already). They were playing in filth with a half deflated ball......but they were having so much fun! I remember thinking 'should someone tell them NOT to be happy'? Take care, you! XO/Kevin

  2. Marielle--It's so exciting you've gotten a team together--a much needed outlet for these hardworking girls! Maybe they will "bend it like Beckham" one of these days. So glad to hear Anne will continue this after you leave!

  3. Soccer seems to be such a great equalizer. It brings countries together with different languages, cultures, and religions and they find they have something in common. When I visited Nafaji last December I was so excited to play with the village teams. They were amazing. They would be a top team in Seattle if they came here. Thanks for helping us to connect with people in Senegal through soccer.