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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rosenbauer speaks about using soccer for female empowerment

Published: March 20, 2009
Section: News

After a week watching her host brother and his friends play soccer every afternoon while in Equador last spring, Brooke Rosenbauer ‘09 finally asked to play.

Ignoring his laughs, Rosenbauer started to juggle the ball with her friend Sarah. Her brother was in shock.

“He said, ‘I thought girls only played with dolls,’” she explained at her presentation for the Jane’s Travel Grant, “From the street to the field: soccer and youth empowerment in Ecuador.” “We challenged him to game. We won three straight.”

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given Rosenbauer’s history with soccer. Recruited to play varsity at Brandeis, she eventually dropped out her sophomore year to pursue work with Grassroot Soccer. Grassroot Soccer is an Non Governmental Organization that uses soccer to facilitate HIV prevention programs in Africa. Currently, Rosenbauer is the director of a national initiative called Lose the Shoes, which encourages barefoot soccer tournaments at colleges and high schools throughout the country in an effort to raise awareness about Grassroot Soccer.

Realizing that she wanted to return to the country for winter break of this year, Rosenbauer looked to return with a Jane’s Travel Grant. While looking for a program with which to apply, she stumbled upon A GANAR. A GANAR did much the same work as Grassroot Soccer, helping to educate Ecuadorian youth through internship programs, classes, and, of course, soccer.

This experience provided Rosenbauer the perfect opportunity to conduct research on her thesis regarding the gender implications of soccer-based HIV prevention programs in South Africa. Using A GANAR as a case-study, she spent her three weeks abroad to tour as many of A GANAR’s rural pilot programs as possible.

Rosenbauer explained that the experience only cemented her feelings about the importance of soccer.

“Soccer is a language that the kids can understand, so when you start to talk about the core values that A GANAR stresses – teamwork, communication, focus on results, etc. – they are able to internalize those concepts and then translate them into the workplace and their personal lives.”

Rosenbauer also saw a change in the gender dynamic. Though some girls didn’t want to participate at first, times are changing. With more female interest, more leagues are starting up, and more girls are participating in pickup games. A GANAR has helped by encouraging girls and boys to play soccer together, something Rosenbauer supports.

“You can’t empower girls in a vacuum,” she said, adding that in order for girls to be empowered by playing the game, they must play with and against boys.

However, as important a role as soccer plays, Rosenbauer strayed from claiming that this was the primary purpose.

“A GANAR isn’t really about soccer – soccer is more of a stepping stone to achieve their ultimate goal which is to have the opportunity to get a great technical education that will give them an edge in the fiercely competitive job market,” she said. “I asked a number of the students, if they could change one thing about their lives, what would it be? Without hesitation, every single one said better access to education. They didn’t want more money, more stuff, a car…just better access to education, better healthcare for their families, and a less corrupt government.”

Her presentation, which was full of pictures, stories and movies, caught the attention of Lisa Fitzgerald ’10. Fitzgerald, who had recently returned from the same study abroad program as Rosenbauer, enjoyed the presentation.

“I thought it was really thoughtful and compelling,” Fitzgerald said. “Just one thing wrong – it made me really miss Ecuador!”

Rosenbauer expressed similar sentiments, and said that she enjoyed her time abroad so much that she planned to spend her summer working in A GANAR’s DC office for the summer. She will be presenting her work again at 2 p.m. for the Learning Symposium in the International Lounge in Usdan on Thursday the 26th of March.