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Empowering Girls Through Sport (Soccer Without Borders)

SWB integrates on an off-field programming to meet the needs of refugee youth in Kampala, Uganda.

Photo of Katy Nagy
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One of the greatest barriers to success for refugees in Kampala is lack of access to education. SWB Uganda's approach is non-traditional, using soccer as a hook and taking a whole person approach to their development: mind, body, and voice. While we offer classroom English lessons and educational workshops on a daily basis, we also utilize on-field time to teach life skills. At SWB, urban refugee youth find a safe space to grow and learn. The five key activities that SWB implements are: Soccer Play and Instruction, Off-Field Education, Team-Building Games, Cultural Exchange, and Civic Engagement. Daily programming includes English class, life skills class, and football training. In addition, we hold a weekly girls program that integrates each of these activities with a focus on specific challenges and issues that are relevant to girls in the community. This girls program is the focal point of our idea. With additional support, this program can be expanded to meet the specific needs that refugee girls face in Kampala. Development of on and off-field curricula as well as additional program hours dedicated to girls will deeply impact the lives of girls in our SWB program.


This project will focus on refugee girls between the age of 5 and 18 years old. SWB serves urban refugee boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 18 who live in three of Kampala’s most impoverished neighborhoods: Nsambya, Katwe, and Kirombe. The majority of our participants are unable to afford school fees, and without SWB programming, they would have no space for positive and educational engagement with their peers and community.


SWB Uganda's Girls Empowerment Program began in February 2014 and has been implemented one day per week since then. During that program, girls discuss topics relevant to challenges that they face in the community and participate in a variety of different activities, including counseling, football, modeling, arts and crafts, etc. In the past month, expansion of this program has been tested in implementing a counseling unit. For two months, girls who are older than 14 years old learned how to counsel refugees who are experiencing challenges in a new community. For one week, Girls Empowerment programming was held for 3 days per week to test additional hours of programming. Incorporated in the training was learning about all services available to refugees in Kampala. The girls then practiced counseling community members on issues that they experience, using the information that they learned in the classroom to advise individuals. The curriculum for this unit was designed by our local female coach using resources such as the Goal Activity Guide, interviews with participants and their families and community members, and observations made in the community. Participation in the program and investment in the program culture was very strong. It has been clear that to expand our girls programming, we need additional support in developing on and off-field curricula and support for staff to increase hours of programming.


After implementing our prototype, community members, families of participants, and partners such as YARID (Young African Refugees for Integral Development) have strongly welcomed the idea of expanding our Girls Empowerment Program. Though the girls are relatively young, their ability to offer advice and actively give back to their community has been positive in development of their confidence and leadership skills. One idea that our community has contributed to this concept is the need for vocational training in our program. Vocational training and skills necessary to succeed in the workplace are essential elements in designing our on and off-field curricula. Since our program began, we have actively involved the community in discussions around programming and the best ways for SWB to support the youth we serve. It was through this communication that we recognized a need to begin formal English classes for youth and adults in 2012, integrating English curriculum with the life skills and football curriculum. Also, SWB is part of streetfootballworld, a global network of organizations that use football for social change. Through participation in this network, we have been able to learn best practices in implementing football programs that teach life skills and serve as a tool for cultural exchange.


There are no other football programs designed specifically to address the needs of refugee girls in Kampala. Using our whole person approach, we are able to combine on-field play with off-field workshops. We have the potential to support girls to develop their minds, bodies, and voices while providing skills necessary for success in a new environment. It will offer an opportunity for refugee girls to receive an alternate, holistic education that they would not find elsewhere.


SWB Uganda would use Amplify funding and design support in three areas: 1. Development of on and off-field curricula - Combining resources and research (some of which is already being used) to design curricula that address the needs of refugee girls in Kampala through on-field play and off-field workshops. 2. Girls Program Coordinator - Empower a local female coach to oversee all girls programming and manage relationships with partners connected to the girls program 3. Activity Implementation - Increase the number of hours allocated each week to girls-specific programming. This may include participation in a football league as well as educational field trips throughout Uganda/East Africa.


A significant number of refugee youth do not have access to formal education. Our program focuses on a way to immediately tackle that issue by providing alternative, non-formal education. In particular, this idea addresses additional inequality and barriers that girls face by offering free, consistent programming. Using our existing girls program as a prototype allows us to envision an expansion that is manageable and resourceful. Because of our understanding of uncertainty in the lives of refugees, our programs are designed to provide immediately relevant skills. For example, our youth immediately enter English class, allowing them to communicate in their new community.


Thank you for your questions! To respond: 1. Our program originally developed in response to a need in the community. From the start, girls were included in all aspects of programming. However, there was (and remains in many cases) cultural resistance to girls playing sports. This requires many conversations with community members and family members of participants about the many benefits of sports for girls. The growth of the girls program and the birth of our Girls Empowerment Program resulted for two reasons: 1) The number of girls participating in the program grew tremendously from 2012-2014; 2) Program leadership recognized a responsibility to provide additional programming to girls who experience significant challenges and barriers to success. Life Skills classes are planned and delivered by local staff and volunteers. For Girls Empowerment Program, workshops are led by a female staff member. We provide a certificate of completion for English classes each term, but do not currently have a certificate for Life Skills. 2. SWB Uganda currently serves 350 core participants (attend 3-6 days per week). We serve an additional 425 youth per year in special events such as our annual Kampala Youth Festival. Of those participants, 43% are girls. There are 65 regular participants in the Girls Empowerment Program. Our program is at our maximum capacity, given our current funding and space, and has been for the past 3 years. From 2012-2015, the number of girls in our program has increased by more than 300%. We have edited the content of this idea to more clearly outline the way in which Amplify support would allow for expansion of the girls program. 3. If given additional funding, Girls Empowerment Programming would be offered 3-4 times per week. It would expand to collaborate with local organizations for vocational training, leadership workshops, football league play, and educational/team-building trips. A major priority in this plan is empowering local female coaches to run this program. This will include professional development support as well as funding to hire additional female staff members.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

As an organization, we can now offer guidance in implementing football programs with a focus on youth development. Each of our coaches have been trained in coaching for youth development by our partner and expert in the field, Coaches Across Continents. As we continue to grow, we are seeking help in expanding our girls program and establishing greater financial sustainability.


This program is implemented by Soccer Without Borders in Kampala, Uganda.


  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.


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Photo of Sacha R

I love your project Katy and the way you combine play with programming. Thank you for sharing it with us on this platform!

Do you know about Reclaim Childhood, which seeks to empower refugee women and girls through sport in Jordan? If not, just wanted to make you aware of them as it's often productive to connect and share with others working on similar projects in different contexts.

Good luck and keep up the great work!

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