How Aspiras is creating an education program through soccer!

MPiP has been working with Aspiras Foundation –  an NGO that works to support and empower youth from low-income communities in Dominican Republic, through soccer clubs. What started as a clothing drive by the founder, then a student of Western Michigan University, to his hometown soccer club in Santo Domingo has now expanded into a foundation that operates in 12 provinces, managing over 18 soccer clubs with a goal to break the intergenerational poverty cycle in poor communities through their core values embedded in soccer.

Soccer began to gain popularity first among the elite and upper-class community in Dominican Republic, recounts Federico, founder of Aspiras Foundation. Unlike the baseball fever in the country, soccer initially only grew horizontally among the affluent. Meanwhile, baseball was transforming the country and generating a revenue of nearly 1 billion dollars a year. The sport has made over four generations of families exponentially wealthy and respectable.

The allure of baseball conceals the reality of talent factories exploiting children, keeping them out of school and blinding them with transient riches. Discussing these issues, Federico was determined to define soccer as the means to a better life for children from disadvantaged communities. Aspiras is modelled around developing a child holistically through five core values: Responsibility, Leadership, Discipline, Teamwork, and Perseverance. While baseball continues to wear down the athletes physically, Aspirias aims to toughen up their athletes mentally to take on any adversity in life.

The foundation also works with coaches and parents, alongside their children. For some of the players, coaches are the only father figure in their lives. In recognizing this, Aspiras has built a strong sport psychology curriculum that they hope to scale up. In addition to coaches, they want to expand their outreach to the parents as well.  Through this initiative, Aspiras’s goal is to challenge the status quo on soccer and create a realistic path by educating their stakeholders through their newly designed sports psychology manual.

Eduardo, the co-founder of the NGO, discussed Aspiras’s plan to introduce mobile health clinics and services as a method to promote health awareness and basic medical care to their children. Our team inquired about the situation of female athletes, whose drop-out rates are higher in number, and suggested several initiatives surrounding female health care in order to raise awareness and retain their participation. Furthermore, due to the high incidence of female domestic violence in Dominican Republic, the NGO presented their plan to conduct several awareness campaigns throughout the year.

Aspiras has garnered local support and formed viable partnerships in the country to boost education and health outcomes through soccer. This year, the NGO plans to publish an impact portfolio to measure their impact over the three years and evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. This is where our MPiP coordinators will play a crucial role in carrying out a Theory of Change. Our team will work towards identifying the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, designing targeted surveys and training enumerators to carry out data collection. Towards the end of our academic year, MPiP will present the findings, and make targeted recommendations. 

MPiP Travels To Guatemala

(L to R) Rafael Contreras, Navishti Das,
Anne Partika,
Haley VanOverbeck, Kylie Grow

This year, McCourt Policy in Practice (MPiP) has partnered with La Alianza — an NGO located in the capital city of Guatemala. Our team traveled to Guatemala City in October to kickstart our collaboration with La Alianza by meeting with the organization’s leadership to gain a better understanding of its current efforts and future goals. In anticipation of their upcoming 10th anniversary next year, La Alianza hopes that collaborating with MPiP will help the organization reach targeted development goals by its big milestone. Kylie Grow and Anne Partika, MPiP project coordinators, share their travel experiences, insights, and stories.

What type of work does La Alianza do?

Kylie: La Alianza is a shelter and advocacy organization for trafficked girls located in Guatemala City. The shelter has approximately sixty-five beds. La Alianza’s clients are referred through various Guatemalan law enforcement agencies, including the court system. The organization has been active in the fight against human trafficking for just under ten years. Its work is especially critical and influential today as Guatemala begins to respond to international pressure to fight human trafficking and provide for the social welfare of children who are victimized. While in care, the girls at La Alianza receive many services including case management, psychological counselling, medical care, legal services, and formal education.

What is the value-added of in-person meetings with our partners?? 

Kylie: We are so grateful to La Alianza’s leadership for making this trip very informative and productive. Program Director, Caorlina Escobar Sarti, gave up two days of her time for meetings with us and her program’s leadership, to introduce us to some of her clients, and to educate us on the challenges her organization faces in juggling the court system, child welfare agencies, and day-to-day operations in the shelter. These face-to-face meetings allowed us to fully understand the work that La Alianza does, who they serve, and who makes up their team in a way that conference calls would not have. We were also able to meet directly with their Efforts-to-Outcomes specialist to go through some of their data to begin to understand what MPiP can offer La Alianza.

Anne: I second everything Kylie said. We learned a lot on this trip — about La Alianza, but also about the social and political context that surrounds the organization. These kind of immersive, context-building trips help us avoid falling into the trap of just doing our work from afar without an understanding of the context— not only because we learned about the context, but also because we were able to form the necessary relationships with the organization to bring their expertise to bear on our work. We know that we aren’t the context or substance experts for these organizations, so we were glad that we could spend some time with the organization and identify how we can best use our skills we’ve gained at McCourt along with their expertise as an organization.

How do you see MPiP’s role in this partnership with La Alianza and what is the plan of action ahead?

Anne: La Alianza has a major fundraising event for their 10-year anniversary coming up in 2020, and with that, comes 10 years of administrative data that they’d like us to work with. While we’re still working out the details, they’re hoping we can put together a report that shows the work they’ve done over the past 10 years in a way that would not only be exciting for their funders, but also useful for the staff to think about where La Alianza is going next. The partnership is off to a great start, and we hope to maintain a relationship with them beyond this academic year!

What are the opportunities and challenges that La Alianza faces?

Kylie: A challenge and opportunity that La Alianza currently faces is that of scaling. It is one of the largest shelters in Guatemala for trafficked girls, but even so, its capacity is relatively low. It is working with other international organizations, as well as Covenant House at large, to see how it can grow to serve more children and families. We also got a clear sense of what La Alianza’s family reunification and reintegration programs look like for the girls in its care, and the organization made it clear that it wants to continue to study its interventions post-discharge to make sure every girl is successful and safe when they leave care.

Finally, what were your three takeaways from travelling to Guatemala and this first formal interaction with La Alianza experience?

Annie: One thing that was really cool about going on this trip with MPiP was that each of us on the team brought something different to the table and would have different “takeaways” to share. For me, as a dual-degree student in psychology, it was really interesting to see an on-the-ground response to child trauma. La Alianza is doing so much with so little resources and so few staff. One thing that really struck me was Carolina talking about how they’re grateful that a significant portion of their funding comes from Covenant House International because other funders often don’t want to give money towards staff salaries. Rather, they want to fund direct services, like school supplies for the girls. Yet the irony is that extensive research on how trauma affects child development tells us that one of the biggest factors in promoting resilience is relationships with supportive adults. So, it was interesting for me to see some of the barriers that exist that prevent us from implementing things that we know work well — we know supportive adults are important for child trauma, but having an extensive, well-trained, and well-paid staff is easier said than done. La Alianza’s success in rehabilitating their clients and ensuring that they get a second chance at life can be perfectly narrated through the story of a girl who was ‘reintegrated’ into a new community, along with her mother. The mother and daughter duo started a small restaurant with seed money provided by La Alianza. 

The eggs pictured above are from the turkeys that the mother-daughter team rear together at home, for their kitchen at the restaurant.