The potential for soccer to inspire youth to achieve growth, inclusion, and personal success requires more than simply playing the game. We believe that results come from the commitment of trained, caring coaches and mentors who use a range of activities to develop the whole person- not just the player- and foster a safe, supportive team community.
When Abednego arrived to Oakland from rural Guatemala in 2011 at the age of 16, his success was far from assured. At that time, he spoke only Spanish and his native Quiche, a Mayan dialect. He and his family received asylum in the U.S. and Abednego began attending Oakland International High School. Shortly after he arrived, Abednego met Ben, SWB's Founder and joined the program. For the next 2.5 years, Abednego never missed a practice. At SWB, he found a caring community and a chance to lead; he was a key member of the student team that successfully petitioned to build a field at Oakland International HS, and was twice elected team captain. In the summer of 2014, he attended SWB’s Ready4College program, and participated in SAT workshops throughout the fall. Looking back on his time with SWB, Abednego reflects, “When I came to America I didn’t think I would succeed, but as President Abraham Lincoln said ‘I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back. Soccer Without Borders has been a guide to keep me going and going to reach my goals and my dreams.” Abednego is now a sophomore at San Francisco State University and a coach for one of the Bay Area's premier soccer clubs.
As an organization that serves refugee youth in both the United States and internationally, we have had the privilege of working with young people from more than 60 different countries. Our participants and their families have fled some of the world's most challenging conflicts, hailing from the Central African Republic, Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, El Salvador, Burma, Burundi, Iraq, and most recently Syria, among many more. Refugees are one of the most vulnerable populations in the world, with nearly 30 million children displaced from their home countries. Leaving your country, your home, is not a decision that any family wants to make. The soccer field is one of the few places where youth who have experienced this kind of transition immediately feel confident, counted, and like they can express themselves and contribute. Soccer Without Borders programs are designed to address the complex barriers refugees face, reaching and retaining youth that too often fall through the cracks. Our holistic program model equips these youth with the tools and confidence they need to overcome adversity and reach their inherent potential.
Getting girls in the game is a central focus of Soccer Without Borders' work, breaking down barriers so that girls of all cultural backgrounds can exercise their right to play. The benefits of sport for girls are many, including greater academic achievement, higher self-esteem, and a lower likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. Yet globally just 10% of soccer players are female, the majority from high-income countries. In Nicaragua, a Pan-American Health Organization study revealed 90% of Nicaraguan girls reported barriers to participation in sport, and just 13% engaged in physical activity in their neighborhoods. Here, SWB has built girls teams where no opportunities existed before, and reached more than 3,000 girls across the country through camps and clinics. This year, the football federation (FENIFUT) launched its first-ever U-15 girls' team, and six of our participants were named to the team. These girls average four years and an 87% attendance rate at SWB, a testament to their tremendous dedication. It is rare for girls outside of the capital to have this opportunity, but these girls have proven their hard work can take them where no other girls their age have gone before: the global stage.
The majority of Soccer Without Borders participants are English language learners, honing their English skills for 8-15 additional hours per week outside of school. SWB activities take place in a variety of different contexts, maximizing exposure to different vocabulary. In fact, SWB Baltimore has designed a curriculum that integrates language learning into practices on the field. Youth like Manuel at SWB Baltimore credit SWB with improving English skills, "It's why I know English now, because when I started to play, I didn't really speak English at all, but playing with them...it helped me learn English because I had to speak." Learn more about how language development and soccer go hand in hand at SWB Oakland in "How Youth Learn."
While limited English speakers across the United States graduate high school at a rate of less than 60%, 95% of regular SWB participants (USA) have graduated from high school. Of these, 92% have gone on to two or four year colleges. Internationally, our Nicaragua program is also shattering academic outcome statistics, with 87% of regular participants in primary and secondary school passing their grade. In Nicaragua, just 46% of students enroll in secondary school at all. The combination of academic interventions, leveraging passion for soccer for academic investment, regular tutoring and a culture of positive school engagement within the supportive team environment leads to uncommon outcomes across SWB programs.
Our volunteer approach is built on the concepts of reciprocal impact and authentic collaboration, defining service as a two-way street. Annually, more than 500 volunteers donate more than 10,000 hours of service to SWB, a value of more than $200,000. From family mentors, to tutors, coaches, event staff, fund raising gurus, pro bono legal and technical services and more, our volunteers know how to put their skills to work! The benefit, though, is mutual, as our volunteers gain cross-cultural comptency, professional skills, and learn from the youth and families in our programs. In 2015, researchers from the University of Illinois published this study on our most intensive volunteer program, the Team Leader year abroad. Volunteer testimonials can be found here.