How soccer can help unite and build friendships across borders.
Our program MedTreks Kenya, is a health education and mentorship program, providing skills-training and education to Kenyan healthcare professionals at Village HopeCore International (also known as HopeCore). Twice a year, our program gathers 12-16 health professionals from the United States and we travel to Kenya to work side-by-side the HopeCore staff.
The 9-day village stay in the lush mountainous region of Kenya is packed full of mobile school clinics, training sessions, health workshops and pop-up health clinics. Within the first few days, friendships are forming between the two different cultures…but it isn’t until mid-week when the true magic happens…
It is a sunny day, in the mid-80s around 3 pm in the afternoon. School children in blue uniforms scurry across the red dirt field like ants as the HopeCore and MedTreks teams gather on the sidelines. Stevie Wonder is playing on a blue tooth radio placed in an old plastic bucket to help boost sound. Jerseys for the two teams are passed out as some players start their individual stretching routines and others giggle with their colleagues, the “game” is about to begin.
MedTreks on one side of the field, HopeCore on the other. It is a traditional soccer match between US and Kenya, initiated in 2017 by HopeCore’s woman’s empowerment committee. Over the years it has become quite the town spectacle. Students are glancing through the windows from the nearby primary school, shop owners stop by on their bicycles to witness a site that probably has never happened in the history of the village.
The whistle blows and the soccer ball is projected across the field, encouraging shouts are heard from the sidelines as our teams scramble across the dust-covered field, dodging potholes and old tires. Working with our teammates, sometimes using strategy other times just trying to kick the ball before it flies by our heads.
A few friendly pushes here and there, but mostly laughter and good old competition makes this game incredibly fun, and one of the highlights of our time in Kenya with HopeCore. This experience is a reminder of how inspiring the human spirit can be, collectively working together for a common goal.
Our main purpose in Kenya is to provide medical training and collaborate with HopeCore, but this soccer game continues to be the apex of the trip, where friendship forms and our two teams become family. It is a cross-cultural opportunity that equalizes and it is priceless…..
Oh and yes, after high demand, we started a new co-ed soccer match after much debate.