December 15, 2009 · Print This Article

by Michelle Mazzeo

I came to Uganda with EDGE Project‐-a group from the University of Wisconsin‐ Madison that enables students to carry out detailed research with professors on campus and subsequently implement small projects in partner communities in the developing world. When I arrived at Lingira Island in the middle of Lake Victoria, I had no idea that I would be working full‐time as a soccer coach to a group of young ladies.

Before the soccer team began, I spent over a month just getting to know the Lingira island community. I found that most people spoke broken English, if any, and had preconceived notions about why I chose to come to their small and remote island. It was difficult to get to know people well in such a short period of time. However, the rapport I built simply from trying helped me later when I decided to report on this story. One evening I invited myself to play soccer with some of the men from the island. After only a short period of time, I found the men and boys were shocked that I was able to kick the ball in the right direction and I was famous within a matter of hours.

Of course, all this attention just for playing some soccer did not sit right with me. Girls should be encouraged to play the beautiful game just as boys are. Once I did some background research with the schoolteachers and other community members, I discovered that girls were much too busy cleaning, cooking, gardening, tending to children and caring for their family members to enjoy a refreshing and fun game of soccer. I also learned that many of the girls engaged in prostitution, premature sexual relationships or were victims of rape, which is extremely common in the community.

I immediately began to work with a young native of the island, Tony, to put together the first girls soccer team. Of course, the team was a complete novelty to the island and watching it fall into place was an inspiration to everyone. However, working with young, vulnerable girls in a marginalized community such as this one, requires a lot of care and close monitoring. I depended almost exclusively on the male coaches to translate when I wanted to communicate with the girls about filming them. If I were to document a story like this again, I would try harder to find a woman as a translator. In general, when reporting on a situation that challenges social norms of girls and women, asking a woman to translate is probably a good idea.

I would also make my goals and objectives in documenting a story like this extremely clear to the participants and community, all of whom are already keeping a close eye on the activities of any outsider. The more the locals understand your purpose, the more likely they will be to help move along your project.


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