The Girls of Terrasonson

Every single day at GOALS, hundreds of kids arrive at the field in their communities to play soccer, our Dream Team scholarship students attend classes and everyone is offered a hot meal after practice. We know how important it is for kids to grow up in safe environments with nourished and healthy bodies and the opportunity to believe in themselves and a better future.

But what, exactly, does that look like, and how is it accomplished? We've seen individual lives completely transformed by GOALS, but what impact does GOALS have in the communities where we work?

GOALS is designed to create broad, long-term changes on the health of individuals and entire communities. We invest in developing our Haitian soccer coaches into models of local leadership and believe in empowering Haitians to develop their own communities, which is why all of our coaches are from the villages where they work.

Thanks to an investment from Football for Hope via streetfootballworld, GOALS was able to spend some time collecting and analyzing data to better measure the impact our programs have on individuals and families through football. Measuring the impact of sport-for-development programs isn't always easy, but it's vital to understanding how we can get better.

Using the the enthusiastic teenage girls of Terrasonson as our sample group, here's what we found:

When the need in Haiti is so great, making a significant impact can be simple. For example, per our baseline data, all but one of the 30 young women on the Terrasonson girls team suffers from chronic food insecurity, defined by how often they are able to eat and how often they feel hungry. By coming to GOALS programs where they receive a hot meal, girls who were previously eating only once per day are now regularly eating twice a day. Based on our height and weight measurements, one-third of the girls who were underweight at their first weigh-in moved closer towards a healthy weight at their second.

Before GOALS started working in Terrasonson, we gave the teen girls a quiz as part of our assessment and discovered that about half of the girls felt they knew enough about sexual health (puberty issues, pregnancy and STD prevention). When we asked again at the end of the year, nearly all of them (92%) reported feeling knowledgeable about sexual health issues, 80% reported knowing how to use a condom and all of them knew why to use a condom.

Knowledge doesn't always translate into action (how often do you floss, for example, even though you know you should?), but we're pretty happy to report that none of the GOALS participants in Terrasonson became pregnant this year. According to UNICEF statistics specific to Haiti, an average of 1.98 pregnancies per 30 adolescents can be expected annually, and working with boys, girls and community leaders to overcome teen pregnancies has been an ongoing challenge for GOALS.

Our data showed a significant increase in awareness of gender-based violence issues. Our health outreach in partnership with Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres doubled the number of youth who knew about care options in their communities for victims of gender-based violence.

GOALS had a great impact in increasing knowledge related to food hygiene and hand washing, but we weren't able to show that this translated into significant behavioral changes. In other words, GOALS is teaching kids what to do, but they don't always actually do it. This is something we will be working to get better at. GOALS kids also learned plenty about cholera and mosquito-borne illnesses, improving their scores on a quiz after attending our health outreach program.

Our data also seems to show that GOALS' programs encourages kids to visit the doctor when they're sick. Both by encouraging access through field trips and by providing free basic care through our partner medical clinic, we work hard to reduce the economic and social barriers to accessing health services.

One of the most exciting changes we witnessed this year at Terrasonson was the interest and ability of younger girls to approach the soccer field and join in. Previously, only younger boys came to the field for unstructured play, while girls would often stand around and watch. This increasing presence of young girls is due both to the role our teen girls have as visible role models and also to changing community attitudes about girls in sports and public places.

For example, about a year ago, a religious leader in Terrasonsons was telling families that their children shouldn't play soccer as it was prohibited by their religion. GOALS staff met with him and talked about the GOALS program and the incredible benefits and opportunities that our holistic program offers and thankfully, he quickly changed his mind!

As a Beyond Sport award winner, streetfootballworld member and Football for Hope-supported organization, we're thrilled to now have enough data to show exactly how our sports-for-development programs are changing lives in Haiti every single day. But of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our friends back home who also believe in the power of sport to change lives. So far this year, we've received donations from Dallas, Boston, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida and Colorado.