An 11 year old girl, who despite the odds against her, wanted to become a professional soccer player. She was taught girls don’t play, shouldn’t play, and didn’t deserve to play. We learned she played anyway. Throughout our week, we learned more about this young girl and discovered she was eager to play, compassionate, & full of gratitude.
Maria met us with her cleats up in the air anxious to show us what we had in common…girls in love with the game. A pair of cleats and a ball at our feet, we all spoke the same language and the bond began. Maria was at our side and we were able to learn about her family and the struggles they faced on a daily basis. By mid week we took an unexpected trip to her home.
This alone is a challenge for any family. Maria lived in a two room house with dirt floors that included the kitchen for sleeping grounds.
As you walk through her house, you stepped outside to discover two 4×4 wooden shacks, only one having a roof. The closest being her shower ran by a garden hose, the furthest, about 25 yard away was what they used as a toilet. We quickly realized Maria didn’t have what we refer to as a bathroom. In this this 4×4 wooden space, a hole was cut in the ground and it served one purpose. It offered no protection from weather and more importantly privacy. In between this area, we walked by burning coals where they just finished cooking, reyiro: a simple dish consisting of flour, water, salt and oil. This was her dinner.
You might expect the immediate response for a young girl welcoming 14 unexpected guests from the US was to be shy and hesitant. Quite the opposite. She showed us exactly why we were all smitten by her. Maria was proud of her family and was honored to host us. Her gracious welcome and overwhelming joy we arrived showed traits that were hard to find in many 11 year olds.
We continued to meet and hear more stories similar to Maria’s. We began to realize girls did want to play and their challenges weren’t only wrapped up in social stigmas. Living in poverty brought its own challenges that would impact the future of the girls we met. As a result, we returned home knowing we had a responsibility, not only for Maria, but for all the girls faced with similar challenges in this small town. This was the beginning of Girls Soccer Worldwide.
Today, Maria has access to a bathroom that provides her with the self-respect, dignity, and privacy any girl deserves. Maria went from sleeping in a twin bed for 3 to having her own. She became the first recipient of our scholarship program, ensuring she can stay in school. She was also given the opportunity to travel to the US where she spent 3 months training with female soccer players and because of this she realized she was capable of more. Maria became a fan of the U.S. Women’s National Team with former Cal star Alex Morgan being her favorite.
She headed back to Paraguay with a dream in her heart and the eagerness to show girls to do the same. More importantly, with the desire to show them how to dream BIG. “Now that I have learned how to dream big, I want to teach other girls to dream big, too.”
Maria returned home with the drive to inspire the girls in her small rural town. She believed they have a voice and should use it. She wanted them to know they have value ON and OFF the field. More importantly, she believed the girls in her small town deserved the same opportunities as their male counterparts. She realized, if the girls in the US believed it, why couldn’t they? If the girls in the US deserved it, why didn’t they? Maria became curious, she asked questions, and took a big step forward. She gained a stronger sense of who she was a person and had the confidence to focus on the changes she wanted to make. She became a leader.
“Las Pioneras de Futbol’ (“Pioneers of Girls Soccer.’) the first ALL girls soccer team in her small town of Coronel Bogado. She is also a representative in her school, San Jose Collegio, for ‘Club de Deportes’.
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