Birth Of The League

The players of our Women’s Soccer League in Haiti are made up of the wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of Lake Azuei Village, an extremely poor mud-hut village about an hour outside of Port-Au-Prince Haiti. Before the Hotes Foundation came to this village, the female’s role was to take care of their home, their children, and to secure the food and water for the household. Without electricity, and miles away from a their primary water and food source their entire day was dedicated to providing for their family – and it was never enough. To make matters worse, the women were regular victims of verbal and physical abuse. “When I think about how my life was back then, I want to cry. I just thought it would never change” said Berlanda, a Hotes Foundation Soccer player and mother of two.

In summer of 2014, the Hotes Foundation implemented on-going programs focused on empowering these women. We provided jobs, a feeding program, vegetable garden, and daycare for the young children to attend, giving the women the opportunity to work and go to school.

One year later, the village was flourishing, but the women were still being treated poorly by their male counterparts. We needed to find a way to empower the women. We knew we would have to get creative if we wanted to raise the level of personal power and community power that the girls & women had in the village. In a nation where soccer is a male dominated sport we started an all women’s soccer league; where soccer is king we made it queen.

Since we kicked off the league in 2015 it has disrupted generations of cultural norms effecting the lives of both men and women in the region.

Why Soccer?

Soccer is more than a sport in Haiti, it’s a tradition that has shaped the country, the culture, and the everyday lives of Haitians citizens. Haitian children grow up playing soccer whether rich or poor, boy or girl. But at a very young age girls are expected to keep up with daily chores while the boys are able to get out and continue to play the game.

When the Hotes Foundation started a women’s only soccer league, we flipped the roles of men and women, putting the women at the center of the most celebrated and desired activity in Haiti. We wanted to open an opportunity for the girls to build up their confidence and learn the value of teamwork through a fun activity. Unsure of the effects, and the possibility if the men reacting negatively, we took the risk anyway. The women played on and the community began changing in ways no one expected.

The women players’ overall health and energy improved even after the first week of training “I used to have a lot of health issues,” said Darley Louis, a defensive player on team FC Surprise. “I would go to the doctor they couldn’t do anything for my pain, but ever since I started playing soccer my pain has gone away. The running has helped me. I feel healthier. I feel stronger.” And it showed.

When survival was no longer their primary focus, the women grew active, strong and enthusiastic in every area of life. Self-confidence and courage became the new motivators for them, and everyone in the village was taking notice.

“Out on the field we are happy when we play,” Darley continued “we hug each other we are all on the same page, this is something we didn’t have at home. The coaches are giving us direction and discipline on the field and it’s changing our lives without us realizing”

“Soccer gives them two things” said Hotes Foundation Founder Richard W. Hotes. “One is it gives a sense of confidence, a sense of power, a sense of leadership and value for their own life far beyond just playing a soccer game. The second is the sense of teamwork and both those things are necessary If you’re going to see people start to work their way out of poverty.”

It wasn’t just the women that changed, the men began to change too. “I am happy! I see the women doing beautiful things. It isn’t the ladies who are being enlightened it is us men who are being educated.” said a Father of 2 players. As the season progressed men were running soccer drills with their wives, sisters and daughters to help them improve their skills. More and more men in the village began doing laundry and caring for the children for the first time ever to freeing the women for soccer practices and games. Men & Boys attended practices and games supporting & cheer on their female relatives from the sidelines and bragging on which players were better soccer players evidently taking pride in the girls’ newfound strength, agility and confidence.

The WSL has helped bring the Lake Azuei Community together through celebration, breaking down negative cultural barriers, and helping the men and women work together on and off the field.