Note: this post is from Carly Ziska, Grassroot Soccer Peace Corps Program Coordinator; it highlights one of our recent innovative Peace Corps programs. You can learn more about our partnership with the Peace Corps here.  

It’s been a busy year for the Peace Corps SKILLZ training team as Grassroot Soccer completed the first-ever training of coaches on SKILLZ Girl, our new gender-empowerment curriculum developed specifically for Peace Corps countries.

GRS Girls camp, Morroco

Grassroot Soccer Peace Corps SKILLZ girls camp in Morocco.

In the SKILLZ Girl program, Volunteers and their female SKILLZ Coach counterparts run twelve two-hour sessions with girls in their communities. The first hour is a Grassroot Soccer activity such as drawing pictures of their bodies or learning about birth control options, while the second hour is dedicated to learning soccer skills. Many girls in Volunteer communities think of soccer as a ‘boys’ sport, but once they see that they, too, can improve their soccer skills and have fun playing the game, their self-confidence begins to grow.

SKILLZ Girl Morocco

SKILLZ Girl in Morocco.

In April of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Senegal with our in-house gender specialist, Rebecca Hershow, to work with some amazing Volunteers and Senegalese counterparts. For five days we talked with these inspiring ladies about HIV, sexual health, healthy relationships, and gender roles in Senegal, as well as developed strategies to reach girls in their communities.  By the end of the first day the participants were snapping and calling kilos like pros. We continued to build on the strong foundation we laid in Senegal by hosting a second SKILLZ Girl training in Ethiopia in June. Rebecca and I were so impressed by the women present—even the translator wanted to be a SKILLZ Coach by the end of the week!

SKILLZ Girl Training Senegal

SKILLZ Girl training for Peace Corps volunteers and local counterparts in Senegal.

As with any new program, we were initially worried about how well the curriculum would work in different cultural contexts. I’ve always thought one of the coolest things about GRS’s Peace Corps programs is their unique ability to be adapted to fit any culture, and SKILLZ Girl is no exception. In Senegal, we talked about early marriage and advocating for women’s rights. In Ethiopia, the focus was on violence against women and access to rape counseling services. I also think this highlights why we require trainings for all our SKILLZ Girl coaches. Knowing how and when to adapt the curriculum and working one-on-one with a counterpart to learn not just HIV facts, but also facilitation skills is key to the success of the program. It also lets us collect detailed feedback from the participants so that we can modify the curriculum to make it even stronger.  Our team is excited to continue expanding this new program and is gearing up for a training in Malawi in February.

We can’t wait to head back to West Africa and see what our newest group of coaches has in store for their GRS interventions.  A huge SKILLZ Girl kilo to all the Volunteers and host-country nationals who have made this pilot a success so far!