Soccer Celebrations Reach a New Height in Haiti: The Hotes Foundation Surprises Its Women Soccer Teams with New Uniforms.
It is four in the afternoon on a bright autumn day in Haiti and dust rises from a soccer pitch outside a remote village of mud huts. Shouts and laugher rise with it and coming closer you’re surprised to see two smartly dressed teams in full regalia—cleats, uniforms, and shin guards—battling it out under the hot Haitian sun. Except for the uniforms, the scene is nothing unusual in this soccer-crazed nation, until you notice it’s the village men cheering on their wives, sisters, and daughters, and not the other way around.
The game you are watching is one of a newly formed league set up by the Hotes Foundation as a way to empower women, to bring fun, exercise, and a sense of pride, confidence, and self-worth to the women of the village. Soccer is traditionally a men’s sport in Haiti, and in this strongly misogynistic culture, the opportunities for women to do anything beyond keeping house and tending to their children is severely limited.
The new league formed by the Hotes Foundation is comprised of six teams. Ranging in age from 15 – 50, nearly 80 young girls and women from the surrounding villages take part. They have been practicing for weeks, each under the guidance of a coach, and today they were treated to a great surprise. Unbeknownst to the coaches and players, volunteers from the Hotes Foundation were there to hand out new uniforms to each and every one of them.
There were squeals of delight, high fives, hugs, dancing, and shouts of joy. Not knowing what to do, 40-year-old women fell on the dirt and kicked their legs for joy. Young girls bounced in place as if on pogo sticks or spun in tight circles like tops. If you think men after scoring a World Cup goal are wild, you have no idea how Haitian women can celebrate. In this dusty, out of the way, poverty stricken village, it was like Christmas times ten. From the Hotes Foundation, each player received a numbered shirt with their name on the back, shin guards, two pair of socks, cleats, and a sports bag to store it all in. Junior Erves, the league manager and a former member of Haiti’s men’s national squad was stunned. “Only the men’s national team has better uniforms,” he said. “These are the second best uniforms in all of Haiti.”
It took a while for the celebration to die down, and then it was time for the games. Fully suited up, the women looked—and played—up to the level of their new uniforms. Yet what looked like good fun and a simple soccer game on the surface, will have a deeper and longer-lasting effect.
The very notion of women playing soccer is foreign to a majority of people in Haiti. This new league flies in the face of that and is a shining example that women are as capable as men are at any number of things, not just soccer. It provides an example for a new generation, and gives the present generation a confidence they never had. Sports are also about teamwork and leadership, and what the women practice on the field they can apply off the field as well. The uniforms in particular are a sense of pride, distinguishing the women and giving them a collective and individual sense of being. The uniforms say they are dedicated to something bigger than themselves. All these lessons, all these seeds of self-confidence, are steppingstones to becoming leaders and decision makers in their families, communities, and beyond. A little thing like a soccer league, a simple thing like a uniform, can change the way women think of themselves, and how men think of women. Granted, it’s not going to change the culture overnight, but it is going to begin the process of empowering women and setting them on the path to helping themselves. And it never hurt to have a little fun along the way either.
Stay tuned for more soccer news from the Hotes Foundation and the latest women’s soccer league in Haiti.