May 2016 Archways

The Beautiful Game

ARCHWAYS_Athletics_The Beautiful Game

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were close to 20 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014. Anyone who follows the news has heard about the crisis in Syria, but as Lisa Klinman ’12 knows, there are many other countries grappling with a problem that has reached an all-time high.

Klinman works with refugees from Myanmar, most of them ethnic and religious minorities fleeing persecution. Working for the international nonprofit American Refugee Committee as part of its Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Project, Klinman splits her time between two camps along the Thai/Myanmar border.

Every year, the two camps where Klinman works host a large soccer tournament, but with a powerful stigma attached to women’s participation in traditionally male activities, only men have been fielded for teams. She explains, “Sexual violence/rape is a well-known strategy of war in Myanmar. But other forms of GBV include domestic violence, forced and early marriage, and sexual exploitation.”

To start dismantling some of the stigma, Klinman and a mixed-gender team have been lobbying hard for the right to participate in the annual tournament.

And this year, the Community Peace Team has been granted permission to play. “The team will use this platform to speak about gender equality, gender-based violence prevention and response, awareness of sexual and gender minority rights, and how women’s participation in sports strengthens rather than harms the community,” explains Klinman.

But one roadblock remained. Although Klinman was able to raise funds for the team through external sources, the Community Peace Team was still short 18 uniforms.

That’s when the Bryn Mawr soccer team stepped in.

“Lisa reached out to the captains of our team via email, and let us know about the work she was doing for the American Refugee Committee,” Bryn Mawr soccer co-captain Hannah Broderick ’16 explains.

With her fellow captains, Veronica Roux ’16 and Nina Bertolami ’16, Broderick jumped at the opportunity to help. “When we first heard about it, we were all pretty excited,” Roux says. “It was a unique opportunity for us to reach out and extend beyond the local community and be a part of something bigger. Once we brought it to [Owls head coach] Erin DeMarco and the rest of the team, they were all just as enthusiastic about the prospect.”

The team decided to repurpose the futsal [indoor soccer] tournament they had been organizing. Says Roux, “We were all impressed by how quickly we were able to put the tournament together.” And the response from the Bi-Co community was overwhelming. With nine teams signing on to participate, the tournament raised even more than expected. And for these Owls, there’s more to come; they’re hoping to make the tournament an annual event and expand the scope of their fundraising and alumnae outreach.

DeMarco has high praise for the students. “The captains and team made it a success,” she says. But she sees the event as a testament to the strength of the wider Bryn Mawr community: “This collaboration demonstrates the importance of the meaningful relationships we can have with alumnae.”

As for the Community Peace Team (pictured above), while they didn’t win their tournament, they looked great on the field.

What is more, they made a positive impact in their own community by continuing to promote gender equity and violence prevention through participation in “the beautiful game.”