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Helping to heal a nation

"The youth needed a distraction so we turned to football."

This article first appeared in the Football4Good Magazine: March 2020 - Read the full magazine by clicking here. 

2010 was a very traumatic year for everyone in Haiti. There was a lot of stress, and sadness, on top of losing so many of our loved ones. It’s hard to know what to do in a time like this. For the young people of Haiti, we had to find some way to distract ourselves. For us, that distraction was football.

My name is Francesca Casseus, I'm 23 and I come from the village of Destra and my involvement with GOALS Haiti started that year. I didn’t really like or play football before I joined GOALS. My cousin (who was part of GOALS) brought me down after school one day, and from there I grew more and more interested in the game.

Before being introduced to GOALS, I had nothing to do after school. I would just go home, do nothing, and wait for school to come around again. When I think back it was a very lonely time.

At first, I thought that GOALS was just a fun way to meet people and play some football, but it serves a much bigger purpose than that.

After I came through GOALS Haiti as a student, I still wanted to be involved and give back. I began to volunteer and then became a part-time employee. I eventually became a full-time employee in 2019. This was extremely satisfying for me as there are not usually many job opportunities in my area, especially for women.

The organisation runs workshops on disease prevention such as AIDS, Cholera, and Dengue Fever. It also runs projects on health education and I teach a class on Sexual Education.

While most people join GOALS for their love of football, it is the educational activities that provide an opportunity for positive change in the community. I appreciate the chance that I have been given to work for GOALS, and I hope my example inspires other people coming through the programme.

I teach my sexual education class over a 6-month period each year, once a week in each of our three sites. The courses are designed to coincide with carnival season as there is generally increased sexual activity during this time. In Haiti, the national average for teen pregnancy is 7%. In GOALS communities however, this figure is under 1% of the national average.

Over time my responsibilities within the organisation have increased. I’m not sure if I was always a natural leader but working with GOALS has certainly given me additional confidence to take on a leadership role within my community in Destra. I’m glad that the game of football has given me this blessing.

Women in Haiti are not afforded the same opportunities as men and are generally not respected as much in our communities. However, I have found that in my time with GOALS, attitudes towards women have improved in my community. I think that if people see someone like me in a leadership role, this will become more common, and more women will get the opportunities that they deserve.

From a football point of view, a lot of girls that have come through the GOALS programme have gone on to represent Haitian National Youth Teams. In fact, 32 former players have gone on to represent youth teams, with 21 of them being females.

This is really encouraging, as it gives kids in our programmes the belief that there is a route to high level football, and the scholarships that come with playing at that level. The communities see the value of our work.

The vision of GOALS is not to be a school of footballing excellence, but I’m glad when I see one of my friends and neighbours doing well in the sport. All the kids play football with a huge smile on their face. At any level, I think we play our best football when we are happiest.

In these communities, GOALS also offer literacy classes, as access to school is a hardship for many families. The literacy rate in Haiti is just over 60%. We also offer training in horticulture to allow families to keep their own gardens and provide themselves with sustainable food sources. The response to these services are overwhelmingly positive, and they are helping to slowly improve life in post-earthquake Haiti.

One of the great things about GOALS Haiti is that former students – when possible – are given the opportunity to take on active roles in the organisation. At the moment we have myself, three football coaches (2 male, 1 female), and another young woman who teaches our literacy programmes. I can imagine a time when most of the full-time employees at GOALS are made up of former students.

While the football brings the kids in, it's through the coaching, mentoring, and education that we're seeing a real change. I’m really glad that it has become a centrepiece of the community and that I can help that in some way.

Haiti has not completely recovered from the earthquake in 2010. There is still a lot of rebuilding to do both physically and mentally. However, football has given the community real hope. Personally, it’s given me a real sense of pride and security, and for that I am very grateful. It has allowed me to become a leader in my community. As long as I’m working with GOALS Haiti, I intend to make as much of a positive impact on the community as I can.