But it definitely wasn’t enough. For Kara it was time to stop talking and Kick. Things. Off.
When she graduated wide eyed with a degree in history and a minor in Spanish from Haverford College, Kara was eager to do more than study what was wrong with the world. She was ready to empower girls around the world with education, opportunity and a sense of purpose. And she was going to do it through what she loved best: soccer.
Kara signed on for a year-long program with Soccer Without Borders in Granada, Nicaragua where the non-profit focuses specifically on delivering soccer instruction and educational opportunities to girls, providing them with a safe space to play and helping them overcome obstacles to personal success.
As a lifelong soccer player, Kara had been drawn to how women are treated in sports both as players and fans. She had the benefit of growing up a New Yorker raised by educated parents with a worldly view (her mother who is originally from Scotland met her dad, a native New Yorker, while teaching English in Spain). She also had the benefit of playing a sport in the US where girls thrive, from kiddie clinics to national leagues to even the Olympics.
“I got passionate about girls playing. I wanted to make sure that girls in Granada had the same great experiences that I had playing sports,” she said.
Through SWB she’d spend a year in Nicaragua teaching girls to play soccer. More than just getting them with a foot on the ball it would be a vehicle to expanding their worldview, increasing their chances for completing their education and building their self-esteem.
It would also be a lot harder to accomplish than Kara imagined.
Like battling cultural and economic problems, along with the challenges of everyday coaching. It’s hard to see the big picture – girls breaking out of gender boundaries – when you need to get them to run laps and stop talking during drills.
“I had so many awakenings there. I saw that the way to solve problems is complex and sometimes unmanageable. Volunteer groups like Soccer Without Borders try in many ways to solve these complex, sometimes abstract issues. They’re doing great things and doing so much with so little funding.”
One of the most effective SWB efforts is its scholarship program that pays for a girl’s education for a year including her uniform and supplies fees. This is often just what parents need to justify keeping their daughter in school one more year rather than sending her out for a job or keeping her home to watch younger siblings.
Thanks to this program and visits from American women’s collegiate soccer teams, more girls who play on SWB teams are going to high school. One of Kara’s players got the opportunity to try out for the U16 national team and Kara established relationships that could last a lifetime, even if she’s stateside.
“They LOVE Facebook,” she said.
But her time there was limited to one year and her sphere of influence to just about 20 girls.
That convergence of idealism and practical application, left her frustrated at times that her efforts didn’t yield more fruit. But not bitter. She still has love for SWB and a passion for both soccer and social justice.
“It’s an exciting time for SWB to be doing things. Encouraging girls to stay in school can lead to a better life.”
If anything, the experience made her want to be more effective in her study of history and societal ills when she returned to New York this year to begin graduate work.
“When you’re in undergrad you think you’re blessed with a vision that things are so simple.” The year in Nicaragua, she said, gave her perspective that she’s using to frame her studies in dual masters of arts and sciences in international world history at Columbia University and the London School of Economics.
“Now in graduate school I try to get past the undergraduate way of easy conversations, identifying a problem and going about how to fix it… I thought they were more linked than they are.”
At 24, it’s an exciting time for Kara too. She’s flirting with the idea of working abroad again, possibly working for UNESCO, maybe getting her PhD. Next year she’ll do the second half of her program in London. And she’s continuing her athletic education with coaching courses and conventions, hoping to become a high school coach, and of course, to continue to play in some capacity.
She’s evolving, as a player, a coach, a student and a citizen, which seems just about right for an American.
“Democracy isn’t static. It’s always changing with the possibility to change for the better.”
“I believe the United States is a progressive country. It gives us the ability to connect the practical side of what’s happening on the ground with the idealistic framework, and the ability to acknowledge that we’re not perfect but moving to become more perfect.”
For herself she says, “I’m taking it one step at a time.”
For now it’s one foot in the classroom, and one foot on the field.
Kara, your perseverance and idealism are incredibly inspiring. Your story, which is truly just beginning, is a testament to the fact that often times, living life and pursuing happiness is best done by lifting up those around you. We cannot wait to see what you do next as you and your fellow Millennials set out to change the world!
Keep pursuing happy!