Sharaya Roberts is a soccer player at Northwest University, and last summer she took her skills across the world to volunteer at a skill-building camp in Burkina Faso through Walk in the Light, an organization that traveled there to install a donation-funded well.
Roberts spent most of her time in Burkina Faso making connections with community members, teaching technical skills as an assistant coach and showing the younger girls that they, too, could play soccer.
On her 10-day trip, Roberts traveled with five volunteers from her school. They visited several Burkina Faso villages, including Rialo and Vatao. She mostly stayed in the latter, where she met Ammad, a little boy who enjoyed holding her hand.
She learned a little of the local language, Móorè, and got to know the community. Over those 10 days, she says, the people’s happiness towards everyday life struck her.
“I realized that the people there really have their priorities straight,” she says. “They don’t put worth in materialistic things but in spending time with family and friends and being in community with each other. I realized that life would be a lot simpler if we viewed life like that — valuing friendships over possessions.”
Roberts enjoyed the experience, but the soccer program was not without its difficulties. French is the language of instruction in Burkina Faso, but most of the kids only just started to learn it. Instead, they mostly spoke the local language, Móorè.
In order to communicate, Roberts had to dictate a message to the English to French translator, who repeated the message in French to another translator, who then communicated the original idea in Móorè.
Even if she could not speak their language, she spent time with the people there. Roberts tells a story about her time with some young girls.
“One day, I was sitting with a bunch of the little girls in Vatao,” she says. “They were playing with my hair and teaching me clapping games and repeating everything I was saying… One of the girls kept whispering to her friend, giggling uncontrollably while pointing to me and then running away. After several times, I heard the word blanc… I realized they were laughing and pointing at how white I was.”
Eventually, Roberts led some of those girls to try out her passion. Walk in the Light doesn’t usually sponsor soccer training, but for her trip, they collaborated with a Ugandan program. Alex’s organization Kick It aims to help children excel in soccer so they can earn scholarships and learn about God.
As Roberts helped coach, she came to learn more about Kick It as well as its impacts on the children’s life. “Their goal is to ‘kick’ poverty out of the kids’ lives… He finds kids who are struggling with family or money and takes them in, teaches them soccer skills and puts them on teams that tour the country… Eventually, he finds them scholarships to play for colleges in other countries.”
Alex coached the younger children while Roberts and her group worked with the young adult men, those in their late teens and early 20s. Despite the language barrier, she and another girl from her team did their best to coach.
Walk in the Light provided the soccer balls, cones and other equipment, and the girls ran drills — splitting the participants into groups, doing their best through mime and telephone translation to teach the players tricks and technical skills like passing.
The program didn’t teach any girls. In fact, the idea that a female like Roberts would play soccer shocked the women of the village. None of the girls seemed interested in playing; she describes them as “standoffish” about soccer. When she kicked the ball to them, they would let it roll past them.
However, by the end of the program, some of the local girls started to play a little. According to Roberts, the most important thing that she did for those girls was to help them realize they could do soccer as well as the boys.
“They took a little bit to warm up to the idea, but soon they were mixing in with the boys,” she says. “It was really cool to see us break that cultural barrier — the idea that girls shouldn’t or can’t play soccer alongside boys. By the end of the week, they weren’t hesitant to play at all.”
Roberts has played soccer from the age of four through her junior year in college. Her team at Northwest University has gone to nationals two years in a row. In addition to playing, she also leads the team’s spiritual life group. So, her collaboration with Walk in the Light served to unite her interests in soccer and spirituality.
Her local chapter of Walk in the Light is located in Bellevue, less than an hour away from her university. Donations from benefactors around the country help finance the organization and send out volunteers two times a year to different locations in Burkina Faso.
They also provide clean drinking water to communities, build schools and teach about Christianity. Last but not least, they connect sponsors to children, a program that Roberts now participates in.
Roberts has become the sponsor of Ammad, the little boy she met in Vatao, through Walk in the Light, paying 30 dollars a month to finance his education and school supplies, as well as food and clothing.
Roberts says she sends him letters and sometimes he uses a translator to send letters back. Their time together during Sharaya’s trip last summer connects them still: through letters, pictures and memories of the journey.