GOALS' 3rd annual Global Hand Washing Day soccer tournament was a huge success this year! It was a day-long event filled with food, music, dancing, soccer, prizes, and, of course, plenty of soap and hand washing! Global Hand Washing Day is UNICEF’s campaign to raise awareness about the importance of hand washing world wide. In Haiti, like much of the developing world, death by diseases of hygiene – cholera and diarrhea in particular - are far too common, especially in children. And, since it’s often young women who are taking care of their younger siblings at home, they’re the most critical audience when it comes to hand washing. That’s why we decided that this year's tournament would focus on girls.
Our next door neighbors, the United Nations Sri Lankan peacekeeping battalion, MINUSTAH, offered their support to make the day an even bigger success for the community. The soldiers woke up early to set up a small stage, a Haitian flag and, most importantly, a hand washing station, where kids could wash their hands before eating and throughout the day.
The festivities kicked off with everyone - girls, coaches, soldiers and GOALS staff standing at attention for the Haitian national anthem and a salute from the MINUSTAH commander. Each of the team captains introduced themselves to the commander and he wished them all luck for the tournament. The girls were a bit shy, but he was excited to meet them and shake their hands.
During the matches, a volunteer read hygiene messages, in between excited cries of “GOOOOAAAL!” and cheers from the gathered crowd. In between matches, the Chatulet girls’ team presented a hand washing dance set to music from Beyonce. They had been practicing their routine after hygiene-promotion lessons on the field in the weeks before the tournament.
GOALS’ scholarship kids, the Dream Team, proudly donned their yellow GOALS t-shirts and helped out with everything that needed to be done, from hanging posters to distributing soap to the crowd. After lunch, they circulated the field with a trash bag to make sure no litter was left behind.
Amongst the many highlights of the day was a hand washing relay race for the younger kids. With huge grins and full of intention, they ran across the field, washed their hands, and ran back as fast as they could. Hilarious!
Another highlight was a friendly GOALS and MINUSTAH soccer match. With intermixed teams, GOALS coaches and kids played alongside Sri Lankan soldiers who took off their boots and changed out of their fatigues for the occasion. MINUSTAH has a tenuous relationship with the local community, and rumors of the match had kept the onlookers curious all day. They wanted to see the soldiers playing soccer, and wondered if they were any good!
At the end of the day, Destra’s girls’ team won in a final face-off against the Chatile home team. The girls went wild when they saw the championship trophy and the prize: a beautiful set of brand new official Team USA jerseys, donated by Olympian and US women's team goalkeeper Hope Solo. The winning team also received a certificate of appreciation from the Sri Lankan battalion, sealing the rapport that had been building throughout the day.
Thanks to UNICEF, every single one of our soccer players received a bar of soap, so they could literally take home the message they learnt at the tournament. But besides reinforcing the critical message of the importance of hand washing, the goodwill established between hundreds of soccer players and fans and the UN peacekeeping forces at the tournament will leave a lasting impression.
GOALS’ successful Global Hand Washing Day tournament once again proves that with a soccer ball and a little push from behind, anything is possible.
A huge thank you to volunteer Michael Shroyer for the beautiful photos. Visit our Facebook page to see more of his photos from the Global Hand Washing Day tournament, or visit his photo blog to follow more of his travels in Haiti.