Feb. 15, 2010
Some Luther students may tell you that winter break is a time for relaxing at home or catching up with old friends, but that wasn’t the case for Luther sophomore Paige Ofstedahl and her family. Ofstedahl, from Apple Valley, Minn., traveled to the African village of Solenzo, Burkina Faso, to deliver two sets of soccer jerseys donated by Luther College to the village’s girl’s soccer team.
Burkina Faso, a country approximately the size of Colorado, is located in northwest Africa. It is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Burkina Faso’s people struggle to make a living in a land of reoccurring droughts, poor soil, inadequate communications, a low literacy rate and an economy vulnerable to external shocks and fluctuations in world prices.
“Yet, the Burkinabé are extremely hospitable people,” said Ofstedahl. “They are incredibly generous and gave our family gifts, including a beautiful woven blanket, and showed us traditional dancing and clothing.”
As part of the Ofstedahl family’s 12-day trip in Burkina Faso, they spent three days in Solenzo where Ofstedahl’s sister, Abby Ofstedahl, is working as a member of the Peace Corps.
Abby Ofstedahl, co-founder and co-coach of the village’s girls’ soccer team, first arrived in Burkina Faso in October 2008, working in the Peace Corps’ small economic development program.
“After months of hoping and wishing, and with the help of incredibly motivated friends, the Solenzo girl’s soccer team became a reality,” said Abby. “I felt incredibly excited and motivated to begin working with the girls.”
The team is one of very few girls’ soccer teams in the country of Burkina Faso.
Abby said that participating in the soccer program has social and personal benefits for the village girls.
“I didn’t realize the significance of starting a female team until after our first meeting,” said Abby. “ I looked around at those girls and saw that they couldn’t even make eye contact or speak up, even in our small group.”
Even with the odds against them, the team soon began to grow, increasing from four girls participating at the first meeting to 15 to 20 girls attending each practice.
“After our first game, I was so proud of those girls,” said Abby. “Despite the fact it was a pretty hefty loss, the girls were able to go out in front of an unsupportive crowd and try their best.”
Once the girls started playing games, the next step in building the team’s esteem was getting them some uniforms.
“My sister emailed asking for jerseys, and I knew Luther had recently bought new uniforms,” said Paige Ofstedahl. “I talked to the Luther soccer coaches, and they were helpful and happy to donate the jerseys to the girls.”
In December, Paige Ofstedahl and her family loaded their suitcases with the blue-and-white sets of soccer jerseys and made the long air and overland journey to the village of Solenzo.
“The girls here rarely have an opportunity to play due to the large lack of equipment and leadership,” said Abby Ofstedahl. “Having this gift of Luther uniforms is huge for gaining respect from the entire community.”
Paige and Abby Ofstedahl, both soccer players themselves, were able to spend some of the family’s three-day visit coaching the girls.
“The team is definitely having an impact on the village, more so than the girls even realize,” said Abby Ofstedahl. “Although we may be the equivalent of a ball-clumping team of my young years, this is one project I am incredibly proud of, and I believe it has quite a bit of potential.”
Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlRa8w5GUVQ for the Luther College video about the project.