By Nicole Banister, Training & Partnerships Support Coordinator, Grassroot Soccer
I recently shared my Grassroot Soccer experience at the 8th Annual United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Global Forum at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The invitation to speak as a panelist, presented to me as an alumna of the UNAOC Fellowship, was an unparalleled opportunity to engage high-level stakeholders at the UN on the critical role that young people play in preventing violence and achieving the Global Goals.
As the Training & Partnerships Support Coordinator for Grassroot Soccer’s Global Partnerships department, I am part of the international training team that travels monthly to facilitate workshops for our numerous implementing partners around the world. If you’ve ever attended a GRS Training of Coaches, you’ll know that they’re fun and full of play. But we also use the training space to discuss extremely sensitive and oftentimes challenging topics with our soon-to-be SKILLZ Coaches. As the peer mentors who will be going out into communities to work directly with young people, it’s imperative that we equip them with the skillz to tackle uncomfortable issues with adolescents like masculinity and gender norms, consent and violence in relationships, and risky behaviors that could lead to unplanned pregnancy and HIV transmission.
The GRS Program Model incorporates 3 C’s: Curriculum, Coaches, and Culture. It’s the third C, Culture, that I am fortunate to see and implement first-hand. This youth-centered approach includes creating safe spaces, sparking vital conversations, and giving meaningful praise to young people.
A culture of play and praise matters. Safe spaces for vital conversations matter. It’s imperative that young people have opportunities to freely ask their most sensitive and controversial questions and to do so on their own turf. (Pun intended.) It’s just as critical that these young people then receive accurate responses to their questions from a peer mentor who is wholly invested in their health and success.
With this approach, thousands of GRS Coaches from Equatorial Guinea to Ecuador are building a caring community of young people. They are using SKILLZ programming to encourage youth to combat deeply entrenched cultural and gender norms. They are allowing youth to challenge the dominant discourse on the roles of men and women in relationships, and in turn creating safer, violence-free spaces.
It was an honor to share the Grassroot Soccer culture at the United Nations, and one more example of how GRS is pioneering to prevent and combat violence in this world.