Soccer Beyond Borders: A Woza Participant's Reflection of Time in Peru

Gabe Dewey traveled to Peru with Woza in 2016, and then joined Woza again in 2017, this time on a trip to Malawi. During the fall of his Senior year of high school, he wrote his college essay on the impact that his Woza trips had on him, specifically focusing on his time in Peru. Below is a large excerpt from the essay he sent to colleges as part of his application.

I have never experienced the same satisfaction that I felt when I saw that smile for the first time. The way her lips opened to expose her imperfect teeth, with each tooth unique in its own size and shape along with her traditional skirt and tattered sandals, is something that will remain etched into my memory forever. Fortunately for me, that smile would continue to appear and reappear for the rest of the afternoon. And each time it did, I felt a compelling urge to embrace the young girl, despite her having no idea who I was.

To her, I was only an American boy from a far off culture unlike her own. But somehow, with each goal she scored that afternoon in our little pick-up game, it brought us closer together. Me and her, America and Peru. Two cultures bonding together over one beautiful game. Her smile was so cheerful and vibrant that those around me could not help but smile as well. However, I sensed something deeper within this young girl. Her smile displayed exuberance and joy, but also longing and heartbreak. The unfortunate truth is that it is not culturally acceptable for girls to play sports, such as soccer, in Peru.

This was one of the reasons why I decided to travel to Peru on a soccer service mission to embark on what turned out to be an unforgettable journey. It troubled me greatly to know that there are kids in the world who are not able to experience the joy of soccer. I have been fortunate enough to play soccer all my life, so to see someone who does not normally have that privilege finally get to kick a ball inspired me to make a difference. For the rest of the afternoon, I taught the young girls all I could about how to play the game. When I returned from my trip, I raised money for a school to help ensure that one day there will be soccer equality, enabling girls in this rural village to have the opportunity and the right to play the universal game that brings me joy each and every day.

This experience, while one of many that I was able to have on this three week service trip, opened my eyes to how sports can bring all kinds of people together. Despite the evident language and cultural barrier, I was able to use soccer as a powerful tool to make connections and form relationships with those who I would ordinarily never have the opportunity to meet. It gave me the confidence to approach someone new and begin a conversation in my broken Spanish solely because I knew that we both loved the game.

The girl with the magical smile epitomized why my passion for the sport goes beyond the lines of the field and even the borders of this country. While my practices and games in the United States continue to hold the same level of competitiveness and hard work, a new dimension to the game has been added in my mind. Whether my team wins, loses, or ties, I remember back to the girl in the beautiful mountains of Peru, and take a moment just to appreciate the opportunity to be playing the game I love.

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Woza offered financially accessible international summer service trips for high school and college soccer players, using the game to create connections across cultures and support Sport for Development and Peace organizations around the world. With soccer, service work, and cultural immersion at the heart of each itinerary, we strove to broaden the perspectives of players by demonstrating their abilities to connect with people of all backgrounds and engage long term in soccer-focused social impact. 

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Though our doors are closed as of fall 2020, our legacy and spirit live on through our alumni, partners and beneficiaries.