When Kona Shen first visited Haiti in 2007, the Brown University graduate couldn’t help but notice how popular soccer was as a sport. She even honed her Creole skills while playing the sport with a local soccer team in the city of Léogane, where her volunteer group was operating.
When an earthquake hit Haiti, Shen was part of a Committee that her alma mater organized to respond to the disaster. She traveled with Orphans Worldwide in early Spring of 2010 to help launch social and educational programs post-earthquake. Shen observed that even while dealing with the trauma of such a devastating disaster, neighborhood kids and adults were playing soccer in the streets. It was a sight to see how much an effect the game had on people young and old, and the connection it brought for earthquake victims who were coming head-to-head with the aftermath such a catastrophic events. The award-winning volunteer (A President’s Volunteer Service Award is among the honors Shen has received for her volunteerism) knew then that she had found her calling.
By May 2 of 2010, Shen founded Global Outreach and Love of Soccer—-G.O.A.L.S for short. Since then, the organization has launched off a series of community service projects and activities—including a tree planting initiative, a daily summer camp and soccer tournaments—to help engage the youth and adults of the community in Léogane and get them involved in environmental causes and improve their lives, through their mutual love of soccer. G.O.A.L.S serves nearly 500 kids in its city of origin. Shen, who speaks Creole, French, Spanish and Chinese was happy to discuss G.O.A.L.S.
Any particular reason why you founded the organization in the city of Léogane?
Léogane is the first place I visited in Haiti and I continue to love living and working here. I think that it is somewhat unique in Haiti because it has a relatively high population but it still feels rural and accessible. People are friendly and it’s safe. A lot of times, it feels like everyone knows everyone, and that makes for a great environment to work and live.
What do you love most about Haiti?
There is a lot that I love about Haiti, from the dancing and music to the food and history. In terms of GOALS, I love that people come together for soccer. Families and neighbors come out to watch games, kids share their tattered soccer balls, and everyone follows every play like it’s the World Cup. I think that kind of passion they have for the game, and the time and energy that kids and their coaches devote to improving, is truly inspiring.
How important is soccer to the lives of young kids in Haiti, from what you’ve seen?
Everywhere I’ve been in Haiti, kids will do just about anything to play soccer. They have so much fun with it, and their talent is clear to see. I love that no matter how many obstacles are in a kid’s life, that if they put in the hard work to get better at the sport, they improve. For a lot of kids, playing soccer is an equalizing experience.
What’s the biggest satisfaction you’ve garnered since the inception of the organization?
GOALS originally started as a small project, and we have been fortunate to have a chance to expand. I’m most satisfied seeing that there are now hundreds of kids who have access to these programs, and I am committed to making sure hundreds more will have a chance to join GOALS in the future.
Did you have any obstacles along the way?
We have had some obstacles here and there, but nothing major. The fact that we work very, very closely with local communities to pursue projects that they determine are important means that our priorities are the same as those of the people we are trying to help. I think approaching the work from this perspective helps avoid a lot of potential problems.
What are your goals, no pun intended, for GOALS in the next few years?
I am working to ensure that we are able to grow the programs in the next few years, and hopefully give many more kids access to the sport, community service, and education activities in Haiti. This will take an increase in support of our programs, as well as raising awareness about what we’re doing.
For those out there who might want to help with the GOALS mission—what can they do?
Please consider making a donation to sponsor a summer camper this year. It only costs $25 and will give a child in a rural area a unique chance to benefit from our different kinds of programs. Helping spread word about GOALS is also much appreciated. For information about our programs, how to donate, or links to our page on Facebook, please visit G.O.A.L.S Haiti.