Last week during Ethiopian Easter, I took the opportunity to travel to our neighboring country to the North, Djibouti, to do both educational and cultural outreach. Utilizing a small portion of a $50,000 Nike Soccer Donation I secured, I worked in partnership with the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti to promote gender empowerment through sports, working in conjunction with the nonprofit, Local Initiatives For Education (L.I.F.E.) as well as the Djibouti Football Federation. Early on Thursday morning, before the Sun got mad at me for smiling on a cloudy day, we made our way to the FIFA compound for speeches by local representatives, including Ambassador Kelly who was likewise on hand for the donation ceremony. Members from the Football Federation, the Ministry of Sports, as well as a local girls’ team were also there, everyone excited about the experience to not only share the generous equipment, but moreover, to use the opportunity as a teachable moment for empowering youth through athletic initiatives.
Over the course of my two years in Ethiopia, this was my third time visiting Djibouti, as it is has a draw which only my Soul can understand. Situated on the Gulf of Aden, it embodies a French-infused past with a strong modern Yemeni population. With world-class snorkeling and incredible seafood from those same waters, it is a country which many people couldn’t pronounce, let alone understand. I however have grown to love Djibouti and its people, with a vested interest which grows every time I visit, specifically with respect to the educational sector there and the colleagues I have come to know through my interactions. This time, to couple my past educational-related visits with a donation pertaining to sports, the two complimented each other as they are both pathways to social understanding. I was honored to be a part of this program, and following, to work with such amazing people on this project.
Then donation of cleats, balls and jerseys was from Nike Korea, spearheaded by my friend Mr. Kim whom I came to know during my five years teaching and living on the Peninsula. A literal world and a figurative lifetime away, to have the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti next to me handing out these gifts was something I never imagined when I was in Korea and something which I believe speaks volumes to this global community of which I am a part. From their end in Djibouti, the project was organized by the Cultural Attaché, Joia Starks, and the IRC Coordinator, Turki Mohamed, both of whom were able to bring everyone together. When I visited earlier this year in January during Ethiopian Christmas, we put the ball in motion (pun intended), culminating with the past week’s programming, a successful partnership for everyone involved.
Even more so than English, Soccer is a global language which stretches across countries and continents, with dialects playing the role of your favorite team. For me personally, the sport had the single largest influence on my youth, with Saturday mornings as a child playing with friends to trips to Europe as a teenager playing with teammates. To this day, regardless of the country I am in anywhere on the globe, at a bar or in a cab, if I bring up the topic of a recent La Liga match or a 1995 trip to I took to Wembley Stadium, I am immediately welcomed into a community which stretches beyond race, religion or language. To share these ideas with marginalized youth on the Horn of Africa, in partnership with colleagues from across the world, is the definition of true education outside the classroom which no syllabus can match. For this I am grateful and hope that through projects like this, I am able to be a part of a lasting legacy on behalf of American, Korean and even Ethiopian people; a cultural ambassador of sorts from these places I live, both learning and teaching with those I cross paths with across the globe…