Like so many American girls, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. Whether it was due to the pink tu-tus or the glamorous make-up, this was my ambition for years. Growing up in poverty in Haiti, our GOALS teams haven’t had the luxury of such frivolous dreams (sorry if I just insulted any professional dancers out there!), but they do have serious ambitions. Most want a way to better themselves and their families and so, even at a young age, their dreams are more practical than mine were as a child. In this photo (at right), the Dream Team has each written their ambitions for the future. They read: I want to be a lawyer. I want to be an accountant, a journalist, a doctor, an engineer.
But these kids know they won’t get there without completing school first.
Over the past couple weeks, GOALS staff and a community representative have been sifting through the applications we received for scholarship spots on this year’s Dream Team. I’ve been tweeting a few quotes from the personal letters that were particularly striking, but I’d like to share a few letters in a bit more detail here.
Widlene (not her real name) lives far from the Chatulet soccer field, so sometimes she’s not able to make the trip. She’s got a shaved head, which makes her look tough, but, since she’s small for her age, not too tough. She’s the kind of young teenager that’s just barely bold enough to practice English with me, while enough of a joker to use it to try asking me funny questions.
Widlene’s mother died when she was a baby, leaving her dad to take care of her on his own. In her letter, she detailed the struggles she’s had, but always with a positive note:
"When things were better, my dad sent me to the best school. He wanted me to become the greatest person in our family, since I had already suffered so much. I ask God to always keep me hopeful. My favorite things are school and soccer, but you can’t have soccer without school...I don’t always find food, and my family isn’t together. I’m not a bad student. I always work hard in school. I usually sell charcoal on credit, but the money is only enough to buy what we need. I’m still selling charcoal because I want to go to school. I think about how I need to finish school so that I can study medicine."
Widlene’s coach says, “She always shows leadership, and does everything positively. She’d like to help her country by becoming either an international soccer star or a great nurse.”
Peterson, one of our team captains, signed his letter in English: “I love you GOALS for life”. Twice a week, if I show up to the field early enough, I’ll see Peterson holding a large trash bag and leading the rest of the kids in laps around the soccer field to pick up trash. He wrote:
"I don’t have a father; he died when I was 9. My mom worked hard to send me to school, but now she can’t work anymore. I want to go to school, because in Haiti, if you haven’t finished school, you’re treated very poorly. GOALS has done a lot for me. I can speak English, thanks to GOALS , so I thank GOALS for what you’re doing for Haiti."
It’s been a couple weeks of heartbreak and hope. Heartbreak as we read the personal stories of struggle to attend school, of lives turned upside down by disaster, poverty, and loss, and at the same time, a time of hope, as we know that the scholarship recipients we are able to help are not only renewed with their own hope, but will also have the opportunity at a better life.
Scholarships are awarded based on academic merit, commitment to local development, and financial need. Volunteer Jovan Julien has led the effort to shape, document, and fundraise for the program, while support from the Child Survival Fund allowed us to expand the program this year.
GOALS has high expectations of scholarship recipients. They’re expected to participate in each GOALS activity, including soccer, education and service programs and adhere to high standards of conduct and leadership. One of the unexpected benefits of the scholarship program, the parents tell us, is that the recipients inspire other students to work hard in school, so that they might be able to get a scholarship next year too. We’re proud of the achievements of last year’s Dream Team, and we look forward to reporting back with more news about this year’s amazing group of young people.
Click here to visit our Facebook page, with lots more great pictures and program updates from the field!