Tag Archives: good neighbors

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NEPAL | Unlikely Heroes

Five girls. Five baskets. One soccer ball.blogSunaPortrait

“Sunakali! Are you coming?!”

“Yes! Just let me feed the cattle first.”

The faithful friends, baskets secured firmly with a strap around their heads, waited patiently until Sunakali joined them- then they were off! Six girls. Six baskets. One soccer ball. As they cleared any suspicious eyes of the lonely mountain village they broke free, chasing the ball down the slopes of Nepal.

Welcome to Nepali sports. Not exactly open to girls.

These ambitious girls found a loophole, though – they brought the ball along during their daily task of gathering fodder. Doesn’t count if it’s not an actual match, right? Sunakali watched the ball spin away from her, eyes burning like lonely campfires back-dropped by silhouettes of the towering peaks. And the fires burned deep.

Desire.

Talent.

Legacy.

At age 16, Sunakali was just one of many strong-spirited Mugu District girls with a passion for this forbidden sport. Soccer didn’t fall into any of the approved Nepali traditions passed down through the years for young girls. Traditions like the ceremonial smearing of vermillion on their rich-brown skin. Or like marriage, feeding livestock, collecting fodder, and if they were lucky, an education.

That’s what was expected. That’s what had always been expected.

More than 63% of the district’s population would be  married by 19, and many would begin their long domestic life as early as 15. With most opportunities handed off to the boys, the literacy rate for women stood at a ghastly 10%. Asking to play team soccer might as well have been asking their parents to buy them the moon. But for a girl with limitless dreams, the moon itself was too small.

On this particular sunny day in Nepal, Sunakali and her friends took a break from gathering, kicked the ball around and tumbled around in the pockets of sunlit snow.  Little did they know that this small white ball was about to change their lives- and the trajectory of culture in those mountains- forever.

blogSunaFlagIn 2013, Good Neighbors started a soccer league in Nepal. But not just any soccer league. An all-GIRLS soccer league. How can the world rise above poverty and violence while one of its greatest resources lays buried and neglected: the beautiful, resilient and courageous heart of a woman. Maybe, just maybe, bucking tradition in Nepal and giving girls a chance to shine would prove this.

Word of this unorthodox soccer league spread, and there in the heights of Mugu, it reached Sunakali and her friends that day as they sat in school. After class the friends huddled in conference. Half decided to go for it- the others agreed there was no way their parents would bend.

Since they had little influential sway at home, the seemingly impossible task of convincing fell on the recruiting coach; a task greater than the physical climb he’d faced just to get there. What were these mountains compared to decades of towering tradition? Sure enough, the coach was met with a barrage of resistance. “They were girls!” “What would a girl do with such an opportunity?”

“If our daughter goes away, our daily work will be affected. Who will herd the goats and cattle? It will also hamper her studies.”

“We won’t send her. You might sell our daughter. Who will be responsible for her if she falls ill?”

“Nothing will come of playing football.”parents

Over and over the coach experienced this scenario, like deja vu: inside the walls of a humble thatched house, outside while the parents worked the wool, or on the porch dodging a mother’s passionate gestures. Yet through gentle persistence he insisted these girls had potential, would make the parents proud and- most importantly- give the village a good name.

“Your girl won’t make a name by raising cattle. But if she wins the soccer match in Kaikali- your name will spread far and wide.”

Finally- perhaps from the pure novelty of the offer- some parents actually caved.sad

It is hard to imagine the emotions surging through these beautiful people. The young girl longing for adventure and to prove herself, even as tears proving her apprehension hit the floor. For the first time she’d be leaving her home, her hills, and the only faces she has ever known. And despite the stubbornness of the parents to stick to the opinions of the past, the real depth of their concern surfaced from their love for their daughter, and desire to ensure her safety. Releasing them into the care of this man- official papers or no- was a risk that tempted tears out of even the sternest labor-lined faces. But towards their dreams the girls turned, and up the mountain they climbed.

Literally.SunaHike

They didn’t jump in a mini van and ride down smooth asphalt paved roads munching on carrot sticks and PBJ. No, their dream lead them on thin shoes through rocky mountain inclines. They hiked for hours to reach the next village where they joined more young athletes for official try-outs.

30 girls tested. 15 chosen.blogSunaSoccer

Sunakali made the cut.

And then another “small” hike (two whole days) to the village where they would have their first match. There was a massive turn out. No one had ever seen anything like it. Not for girls.

With no rest day before the game, and little to eat, the girls pulled on their uniforms and huddled around coach as he sketched out the plays.

Soon after, the game began.

The crowd cheered, gasped, and of course, argued with the referees. Sunakali and her team played with every ounce of remaining energy they had, but it wasn’t enough. As the other team celebrated they collapsed in tears. From exhaustion. From disappointment. From the echoes of their parents voices, “Give your village a name. Win the hearts of people.” They had failed. But it was not the end. Not yet.

Joining with another team, they set out for a tournament Good Neighbors had organized. But this was no two day hike. They represented the entire Mugu district and carried that weight of responsibility with them, even as they rode on a small plane for the first time, traveled by ox-cart, bus, and even motorcycles to finally arrive at their destination: Kaikali. But here they found they were a mere spec amidst all the teams competing. 14 teams had gathered. As was the tradition, the teams were greeted with crowds, garlands, drum beats, and the bright vermillion smudged on their foreheads.cart

As the tournament began Sunakali’s coach launched into his pre-game speech. “They’re more advanced than you. Their clothes are better. Even their talking style is more advanced.” (uh..maybe we should send him a copy of Rudy?) “But you girls are no less capable than them. You must remember that!” It may not have been a perfect Hollywood script, but it did the job. With the hum of the crowd hemming them in like a buzzing cocoon, the games began.

Amidst the motion, adrenaline, bodies- the passes, the shots, the sprinting- Sunakali started to hear her name over loud speaker as she cleared goal after goal.

“Jersey number 12- Sunakali is playing a beautiful game.”

“Jersey number 12 has given Mugu the lead!”

Slowly the ashes of their first loss in the mountains of Mugu made way for a stockpile of wins. And it kept growing!

Some of the games were a breeze, some a genuine struggle, but now the end was in sight. The Mugu team found themselves matched up for the championship. The whispers of their parents “give us a name,” must have surfaced and laced their skin with tension as they stared their final opponents in the eyes.

“If it’s your dream to win, you will win.” Their coach’s words joined the rest of the voices in their hearts. But which voice would be loudest? The ball began to fly. The score was tight, the opposition relentless, and Sunakali’s burning eyes on the prize.

“Jersey 12 has the ball. This might be dangerous…”  the announcer cried, his voice rising.

Feet thundered down the field.

She shot.

Goal1

Time froze.

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“Goal!”goal3

Sunakali got it in with one powerful kick. The teams continued neck and neck, but in the end, the other team just…couldn’t…score.

Times up.

Sunakali’s name now filled the air on the waves of an uproarious chant.

“Sunakali! Hi hi! Sunakali! Hi hi!”blogSunaWin

Lifting her on their shoulders a tidal-wave grin spread across her normally rock-resolute features. In her arms she held the trophy and by the end of the day she was named the Most Valuable Player. She just couldn’t wait to go back and show her parents.


She did it! 

They did it!

The reception when they arrived back in their district was unparalleled. No Nepal legend ever told of a woman bringing fame to her town. Now a new legend had been born. Greeted at the airport with a line of drummers, they continued through town after town only to be buried by garlands and painted with vermillion until their faces were as red as their blazing hearts. Everywhere they went the streets lined with villagers chanting Sunakali’s name and praising the fame their team had brought to the region.

“These girls went all the way to Kaikali and won a football match.” The State education minister pronounced on a microphone to one community, “We have neither been able to produce a single toilet in the district, or build good roads. We haven’t been able to provide proper education. But if these girls can go so far and win, why can’t we?!”

But perhaps, despite all the fanfare and accolades, the most beautiful moment of all was when two parents with calloused hands held a picture of their daughter, raised victorious on the shoulders of her team and said- “this is our daughter….even a daughter can perform well if given the opportunity.”picture

But this wasn’t the end of Sunakali’s dreams, it only gave her more courage. She went on to speak out against child marriage in her area, and later went to try out for the national Nepal football league.

Sometimes it takes a long time to turn the tide of a culture. Sometimes it only takes a small rudder to turn the massive ship. Sunakali and her friends- literally through their sweat and tears- opened a discussion of change in their villages, and proved that all that anyone needed was an opportunity and willing heart.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot. The translation of the name Sunakali? 

Golden girl.

She watches, she waits, she dreams.
She lives across the seas, or across the street, or walks among us.
I guess w
e just never know what treasure will be uncovered if we only take the time to extend an opportunity.

Lets find more gold, shall we?blogSunaMom

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Interning in the Dominican Republic: PART 2

Sophia interned at Good Neighbors Dominican Republic this summer, and wrote about her experiences in a two-part blog. Read below for her second entry!

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Hello! Living in the DR has reminded me of how fortunate I am to live in the USA and have constant access to potable water. Here in the DR, tap water is not safe to drink, so people purchase water from jugs that are brought to the house via motorcycle. This service is expensive for those living in extreme poverty and it causes people to struggle to provide their families with safe drinking water (the price for one 5 gallon jug is over $1.50). Good Neighbors Dominican Republic has provided the people living in the urban slum of Los Guandules, Santo Domingo with a water filtration system so that they can refill water bottles at the affordable price of only $1.50 per month instead of per jug ( it’s called “Project Good Water”).

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

The Community Development Project (CDP) in Los Guandules has a dedicated doctor working for them.  Dr. Rossy Molina Cuevas provides free medical checkups and care for the parents and children enrolled in the program. Dr. Rossy always has a long line of people waiting to see her and she does an incredible job providing the community with quality care despite the limited amount of resources she has at her disposal.

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Los Guandules is located by the Ozama River, but unfortunately the river is considered to be the most polluted river in the Dominican Republic due to decades of industrial runoff.

I also had the opportunity to work at the summer camp in Los Guandules as a yoga instructor. Over 250 children attended the camp and it was truly an amazing experience (hundreds more children will be back for the second half of the camp). The children are truly talented, sweet, and enjoyed the yoga class. I got more hugs than I thought were possible and the outpouring of love was heartwarming. I’ll never forget their smiles and gratitude.

Yoga time!

Namaste! Yoga time!

The staff and summer camp volunteers are a group of dedicated individuals and I was lucky to get the opportunity to work with them.  The final day of the camp a couple of us got dressed as clowns and the kids went nuts!

That's me in the front and center clowning around!

That’s me in the front row clowning around!

I never thought I’d ever be a clown, but that’s the amazing thing about volunteering abroad – you never know where it will take you or who you will become!

Thank you SO much for spending part of your summer with Good Neighbors Dominican Republic, Sophia! We know they loved having you as much as you loved being there! Are YOU interested in volunteering? Visit our website for more info! 

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Interning in the Dominican Republic: PART 1

Sophia interned at Good Neighbors Dominican Republic this summer, and wrote about her experiences in a two-part blog. Read below for her first entry! 

Sophia DR

Hello! My name is Sophia Jones and I am studying international public health in the University of Arizona’s Masters in Development Practice (MDP) program.  As part of my programs requirements, each student is given the opportunity to select an NGO to work with over the summer in order to experience working in development. When I first read about Good Neighbors online and saw how their development programs are oriented towards youth, I immediately knew it would be a good fit, because I have always been passionate about helping children.

Good Neighbors International (GNI) first came to the Caribbean island of La Hispaniola after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in 2010, when millions of people became displaced and were in desperate need of emergency relief. The complete destruction of Haiti’s infrastructure made it impossible to reach the survivors without first crossing through the Dominican Republic (DR). After spending time in the DR, GNI saw that beyond the fancy 5-star resorts and white sand beaches, many children and their families lived in extreme poverty (about 20% of the population). The GNI crew decided that these people could use their assistance and began their mission to open GNDom.

The head office of GNDom is located in the capital of Santo Domingo, a bustling tropical city, and where I live.  I have been assigned to work as an assistant to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Program Coordinator, who is in charge of opening a clinic. This job has been keeping me busy, as there are a lot of logistics that must be accounted for before the grand opening in September. In addition to these duties I have been assisting other departments and getting to know GNDom by visiting the areas they work in.

Currently, the office has been busy collecting almost 4,000 annual letters that children use to thank and update their sponsors. Some of the children live in remote locations so far away that the staff must ride on horseback to find their homes nestled deep in forested mountains. All of the sponsored boys and girls live in areas where GNDom has performed impact assessments. These studies are carried out in order to determine areas where their work can benefit the most children and these are called Community Development Projects (CDP). GNDom has opened a CDP each year and because of this rapid expansion their network has allowed them to provide support to people living across the country. During my short time here I have visited all but one of the CDPs and was very impressed by the various projects and activities GNDom has been able to implement.

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The sponsored children in Los Guandules (an urban slum outside of Santo Domingo) writing to their sponsors.

Despite the rapid economic growth experienced in tourist areas, over half of the DR does not have access to improved sanitation. The arrival of cholera makes this troubling, considering that the bacteria can never truly be eradicated (it is a natural part of aquatic environments). The CDP in Las Javillas (Hato Major) is attempting to prevent cholera and other water-borne illnesses by installing latrines throughout the community.

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This little boy proudly stands in front of his family’s new latrine

One of the sponsored girls in Chinguelo, a community of rural organic coffee farmers showed me the pigs her family received through the GNDom micro-credit program. This has diversified her parent’s income and will allow them to provide her and her two sisters with a better life. Thanks to GNDom, she has received electricity for the first time and with prescription reading glasses.

My first month here has been filled with new adventures! I look forward to visiting the rest of the CDPs and creating fun projects for the hundreds of children that will participate in GNDoms annual summer camp that will begin soon. Stay tuned for my next blog!

 

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THANK YOU TO OUR CHILD SPONSORS

What better way to thank our amazing donors than with a party?! On Saturday, August 15, we held our first Donor Appreciation Event for our Orange County-based child sponsors.

We wanted to show our appreciation to our donors for not just supporting a Good Neighbors project, but also for all that they do in the lives of children around the world! Because of our child sponsors, children globally receive nutritious meals, access to education, and medical care. Again, THANK YOU to all of our supporters! See below for the video we presented to our child sponsors, and some fun photos from the event!

Our new Child Sponsorship video:

Photos:

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Child Sponsorship giveaway mug

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Good Neighbors USA staff thanking our amazing child sponsorship donors

Donors having lunch

Donors having lunch

Jennifer Yang & her daughter enjoying the event

Jennifer and her daughter enjoying the event

Sung Young and his children writing letters to their sponsored child

Sung Young and his children writing letters to their sponsored child

Joshua writing a letter to his sponsored child

Joshua writing a letter to his sponsored child

Donor and Office Manager Diane with Grace and Jennifer

Donor and Office Manager Diane with Grace and Jennifer

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Haejung Lee and Jeankoo Yune

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Delicious lunch buffet at Vanguard University

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Good Neighbors USA staff: Diane, Steffany, and Esther

 

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