A few month ago, and for the first time ever. two women’s soccer teams took over the community soccer field before an overflow crowd from scores of villages near and far from where the students of the two schools live. The intensity and skill of the 90 minute match gripped the crowd and solidly established women’s soccer as a new phenomena in a country where few if any women have ever donned sports’ uniforms and played the national pastime of the country.
The two schools, both in Fontaine, St. Gabriel’s and The Philadelphia School, a Baptist elemen- tary, middle and secondary school, have clearly lit the sport’s flame in many of the women students. The energy of the event exploded as the first women in the villages kicked off layers of cultural taboos about women athletes in Haiti and freed their imaginations to live life more fully.
Many of the ladies had been warned by elders that playing sports would cause serious health problems and even make them sterile. So, it is not exaggerating to say that these women athletes symbolically gave birth to a whole new level of consciousness of women’s equality and dignity in this remote part of Haiti.
Last year, Maya Reagan, a North Carolina college student volunteer at St. Gabriel’s announced that she would form a women’s soccer team if any ladies were interested. Pages of sign-up sheets showed no doubt about it: 62 students signed up. Practices began and not even the sudden downpour of a Haitian rainy season could dampen the spirit of these newly liberated women from firing shots at the goal. Maya asked Siena College, from Loudonville, NY, and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Olney Maryland, if they could help find soccer uniforms. Both schools succeeded and sent uniforms, so the St. Gabriel’s Women’s team appeared ready for the World Cup as it warmed up, stretched and sprinted on the dusty, bare dirt in their premier competition.
Many professionals who work in developing countries agree that significant development really happens when women are empowered. Real education awakens young and old alike to the glories of being alive and the thrills of using all of one’s energy and talents to reach to the stars. What happened in Fontaine, a town not even on the map, portends great things for Haiti. The final score of the match was 2 to 0, but the hundreds and hundreds of people cheering on the sidelines and the women athletes shaking each other’s’ hands felt in their hearts that everybody, especially Haiti, had won this game.