London (AFP) – Hurricane Matthew left over 500 people dead and a trail of destruction in Haiti, but Jolinda Hackett of the award-winning GOALS programme told AFP that morale can be rebuilt through the power of sport.
The American has seen that on the ground as GOALS (Global Outreach and Love of Soccer), which was set up in 2010 and dedicated to working in Haiti by her compatriot Kona Shenis, has been involved in some of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas of the Caribbean nation.
“Around 50 to 100 of our kids were affected by the hurricane,” Hackett told AFP prior to GOALS winning the Sport for Education Award at the prestigious Beyond Sport awards.
“They lost a lot of materials, school supplies, backpacks, uniforms.
“The most upsetting thing about it for me is some families have lost their homes twice now (the 2010 earthquake all but destroyed the port town of Leogane for instance).
“How do you recover from that devastating earthquake and hurricane? I think the power of sport is it just has a huge capacity to bring communities together, to bring a little joy and love to life when it’s needed most.
“The power of sport works even in the most vulnerable parts of the planet.”
Hackett, who says the literacy part of the programme has had surprising successes with even a 66-year-old grandmother learning to read and write, admits GOALS will have to dig deep to replace lost school equipment.
“I wish there were other outside agencies,” she says. “In some of the communities where we work they are geographically isolated and a lot of other traditional agencies — of which there are a lot in Haiti — simply aren’t going into them.
“We go into the communities that have the greatest need because that’s where we need to be and where the greatest impact needs to be happening is required.
“I would welcome other agencies to shoulder the burden but at the end of the day if we want kids to be going to school they need shoes, books and uniforms for their dignity.”
Hackett, whose programme has around 20 coaches, all Haitians, admitted it was not always doom and gloom.
“We literally have children who grew up barefoot and hungry which sounds a cliche,” she said.
“They were wandering round their villages barefoot and hungry and had never played soccer before.
“They came to the GOALS programme and some boys are now in the Haiti Under-15 team and been at CONCACAF (North and Central American) tournaments and we have girls in the Under-15 and Under-17 teams.”
Hackett says this year the programme will pay for 25 children (roughly costing 350 per child) to go to high school.
One pupil, called Olsen Saintyl, has made Hackett particularly proud.
“Olsen is enrolled in university and entering his second year of a law degree which for someone growing up in poverty-stricken rural Haiti is an incredible accomplishment,” she said.
Hackett, who took three days to travel from Haiti to London for the awards, says her own ideas have changed during her time in the country.
“What brought me to Haiti seven years ago to what is keeping me here now is very different.
“It is seeing the impact we have on people, individuals like Olsen, every single day. These are people who over the past few years I’ve seen grow up, have babies, graduate…”
However, Hackett admits once they pass into adulthood they are cut loose.
“We are supporting children educationally and on the football field, giving them opportunities and confidence and giving them a chance.
“Afterwards its up to them how they use it.”
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