Haiti’s young female footballers are showing the way forward for their grief-stricken compatriots. Less than two months after the massive earthquake that brought devastation to the country, a group of intrepid Haitian youngsters are getting ready to pull on the national jersey and fight it out with the rest of the CONCACAF Zone for a place at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010.
The Haitians kick off the qualifying tournament, which is being held in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose from 10-20 March, against defending champions and regional powerhouses USA. Yet while the Americans are favourites to win the match and the competition, there is no question who the locals will be cheering on.
Haiti’s participation in the event in the most trying of circumstances is a testament to the will and commitment of the Haitian Football Association, its players and coaches, and the people of Haiti themselves.
This is the first time a Haitian women’s youth team has reached the finals of a regional tournament since 2002, and their return has been made all the more notable by the tragic events of 12 January, which claimed the lives of 270,000 people. “The girls were living out in the street. It took two weeks to get them together and get support from the Goal Project so that they could have food and water and start training,” explains Georgelie Berry, the press officer with the Haitian delegation, in an interview with CONCACAF.com.
The entire team was left homeless, though the U-17 team’s first-choice goalkeeper Madeline Delice suffered more than anyone, losing both her parents in the disaster. The squad was training at the Stade Sylvio Cator in the capital of Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. The stadium has since become a makeshift camp offering refuge to thousands of homeless people.
The headquarters of the Haitian Football Association was one of the countless buildings that failed to withstand the tremors, its collapse causing the death of 32 people. For the survivors, however, football has offered hope. Braving the conditions, a group of FA workers somehow brought the team together before travelling to the Dominican Republic on 24 February. Thanks to the generosity of the Dominican FA, who have made their facilities available to their neighbours in need, the Haiti squad has been able to train for the regional finals.
“Haiti’s participation in the event in the most trying of circumstances is a testament to the will and commitment of the Haitian Football Association, its players and coaches, and the people of Haiti themselves,” commented CONCACAF President Jack Warner. “We hail their perseverance and we hope to work with them to rebuild their football and the country.”
The Haitians qualified for the finals in style, winning all three of their qualifiers, scoring 30 goals in the process and conceding none. Though that was a feat in itself, it pales in comparison to the girls’ achievement in overcoming adversity and tragedy to take their place in the finals. No matter the results they achieve on the pitch, the young Haitians have set an example for the rest of the world to follow. “The suffering of their people is inspiring them to win,” says Berry. “They want to win for their country, which has been left with nothing.”
After the competition the team will face an uncertain future and are not even sure when they will be able to return home. “We are worried they’ll end up on the street again,” continues Berry. “They don’t even have a bed to go back to and they won’t know where their next meal will be coming from.”
There is still much work to be done to get Haiti back on its feet again, and its people need all the support they can get from the international community to restore even a semblance of normality to their lives. Charity matches such as Sunday’s meeting between the Haiti men’s team and a celebrity XI in the German city of Augsburg are a step in the right direction in that respect, and will help speed up and sustain the rebuilding of the country.
The people of Haiti have demonstrated their courage. It is up to the rest of the world now to follow their lead and give them the support they deserve.