Let’s Play Ball

This weekend, I had the chance to participate in an amazing training for a program called Grassrootsoccer – the mission of our specific curriculum is to empower young girls through health education and playing soccer. Lila, a friend from my training village, put together the whole training for volunteers and local counterparts to learn the curriculum, discuss logistics for starting up a girls health and soccer club, and how to localize the curriculum, which was written with African countries in mind.

We began the first session with the question: “What language shall we use for the training?” The local counterparts thought for a second, and one by one, they asked for Russian. Half of the girls are ethnically Uzbek, and many of the rest attend Russian language schools or speak Russian at home – it’s not that they don’t know Kyrgyz, just that they seemed more comfortable to discuss this in Kyrgyz. Bakyt, a teacher at my university and a huge advocate for Grassrootsoccer, reminded our group that the materials were only translated into Kyrgyz and said that he would only translate the sessions into Kyrgyz. An hour later, Meerim – another trainer coming from Osh – showed up and insisted that content be translated into Russian. She worked from the English book, rather than the Kyrgyz, because she didn’t recognize many of the Kyrgyz health-related words. Apparently, it’s more common to use Russian medical terminology because it’s more expressive and descriptive.

I’m so thankful to know both Russian and Kyrgyz – so many of the sessions and questions and translations ended up being in Krussian. For the most part, I was able to follow along with the girls’ conversations, and I was also glad to be able to talk with my counterpart, Eliza, pretty easily. We were assigned to prepare a lesson about family planning methods – kind of an intense topic for a young Kyrgyz girl, but we worked our way through the awkwardness (and both learned a lot of vocab in English, Russian, and Kyrgyz to boot). I’m sure that if we can prepare a lesson on that, we’re set for the other lessons in the curriculum, which include body positivity, healthy relationships, and the difference between gender and sex. Each 45-minute thematic lesson is paired with 45 minutes of soccer drills and team-building activities.

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Team Dinosaur, ready to dominate at making goals and playing handball

outside exercises

Doing some warm-up drills in the parking lot; we attracted quite a crowd of observers, mostly kids coming home from school, but also a few older men in kalpaks

“Sporty” is not exactly the first adjective that comes to mind when I describe myself, but if it’s necessary to run around and kick a ball at goal posts made of water bottles for the greater goal of giving Kyrgyz girls tools and information that will help them live a healthier life – then I’m on board. It’s too cold now to start up our Grassrootsoccer club, plus schools are going on a month-long break after Christmas, so I’ll update y’all in the spring with how my soccer club goes. Until then, I’ll be working on perfecting my dribbling skills in my bedroom.

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All the training participants with their certificates – ready to start planning a club for the spring! So proud of the local counterparts!

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Me and my counterpart, Eliza – a 9th grader at a school in Jalal-Abad City

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