While many Bowdoin students were enjoying their Winter Break in the comfort of their own homes, Larkin Brown '10, Kelly Pope '12 and Lucy Morrell '13 flew to Nicaragua to participate in Soccer Without Borders. The program targets young women in an effort to teach soccer and combat the problem of illiteracy among Nicaragua's female population.

Brown said that Soccer Without Borders, a non-profit organization founded by Lehigh graduate Ben Gucciardi, "primarily uses soccer as a vehicle to target marginalized youth, primarily girls."

The program's motto is TEAM, an acronym which in Spanish stands for "trabajando en equipos, aprendemos mas," and in English means "working in teams, we learn more."

As a part of this philosophy, the organization approaches their goals from three angles: the bottom up, the top down, and the outside in. The bottom-up approach consists of 13 American players and coaches teaching the girls how to play soccer and training 15-23 Nicaraguans in methods of coaching.

As part of the top-down approach, the program receives some funding from both the Nicaraguan Futbol Federation and the Nicaraguan Institute of Sport and Recreation.

The outside-in angle brings in women who act as role models for the girls. This is an important aspect of the program as the women serve as an inspiration for the girls, many of whom struggle to get an education.

"From what I could tell," Brown said, "many of the girls had familial obligations that limited what they could do in all facets of life, and as a result, illiteracy is a major problem."

To battle the problem of illiteracy, Soccer Without Borders hosts meetings three nights a week where the girls work to improve basic reading and writing skills.

The program kicks off each new year with a camp that draws girls from the community to learn soccer. While only 10 girls were in attendance on the first day of camp last year, 60 girls showed up this year and the majority attended the entire camp.

One of the camp's goals is to obtain donations that are crucial to the program's success, and to further this objective, each volunteer brought 50 pounds of soccer equipment to donate.

The primary focus, however, was on the girls. Each morning, the girls participated in three hours of soccer practice, during which they learned the fundamentals of the game. In the afternoon, they took part in various activities.

The soccer training took place on dirt fields, and many of the girls played in dresses and sandals.

However, "enthusiasm was incredible," Brown said, "despite the fact that resources are so few."

The camp rewards commitment and attendance and provides a way for the girls to earn equipment. They created a point system, and as the girls accrue points, they can earn various soccer gear.

For instance, each girls earns a point for every day of camp that they attend and all of the weekly activities that the program hosts. Girls who attended three days of camp earned three points and a soccer ball, while those who attended all four days of camp received four points and a pair of cleats.

"We didn't totally know what we were getting ourselves into," Brown said, "but the experience was incredibly fulfilling."

Brown hopes to return to Nicaragua, and as she nears the end of her time at Bowdoin, she is strongly considering working with Soccer Without Borders next year.