St. Francis student helps teach gender equality in Cambodia

  • Caroline Zimmer, a St. Francis High School senior from Geneva, right, spent time in Cambodia with a group dedicated to teaching gender equality through sports.

    Caroline Zimmer, a St. Francis High School senior from Geneva, right, spent time in Cambodia with a group dedicated to teaching gender equality through sports. Courtesy Kids Play International

  • Caroline Zimmer was chosen to the program because of her success on the soccer field and her leadership skills.

    Caroline Zimmer was chosen to the program because of her success on the soccer field and her leadership skills. Courtesy Kids Play International

 
By Megan Jamen
St. Francis High School
Updated 1/9/2019 2:51 PM

A senior at Wheaton's St. Francis High School, Caroline Zimmer of Geneva, spent time this past fall in Cambodia with Kids Play International, a group dedicated to teaching gender equality through sports -- specifically "Let's Play Fair" programs.

The organization was founded by three-time Olympian Tracy Evans.

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Zimmer was referred to KPI, and the opportunity to participate in the trip to Cambodia, by St. Francis assistant varsity soccer coach Anne Poulin. Poulin chose Caroline for the program based on her success on the soccer field, as well as her leadership qualities.

According to the KPI website (http://kidsplayintl.org), "deeply rooted in hierarchical and often restrictive culture, Cambodia faces gender inequality issues within education, health care and social status ... Recognizing the deep and widespread challenge of finding greater gender balance, Cambodia's government is calling for strategic activities that will empower women and girls and improve gender equality."

While focusing on sports, specifically soccer, the KPI team introduced the "Let's Play Fair" program to the Cambodian coaches and taught them about respect, community, opportunity, moral courage and contribution, which model the Olympic values respected by athletes worldwide.

The team guided discussions about how to change gender roles and perceptions, engaged in games and fun activities, and played soccer with the Cambodian coaches to help prepare them to work with the youth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"In order to ensure local sustainability and program longevity, the Kids Play Cambodia team is guided by a locally-based KPI program coordinator and 16 young men and women specially recruited to be caring adult role models," says the KPI website.

"These community leaders have received intensive and interactive sport and gender equity training from Boston-based Edgework Consulting."

On the fourth and fifth days of their visit, the KPI team, and the Cambodian coaches they trained, visited a grade school and a middle/high school where they worked to welcome athletes, teach cheers to help recognize when someone does good or finds success, experience team time and activity skills, and play soccer together.

Caroline was given the task of teaching respect through playing games and having discussions.

She said working with the children really impacted her life.

"Playing and interacting with children, despite language and cultural barriers, was a beautiful experience, as I was able to connect with them through soccer," Caroline said.

"The trip was a huge learning and eye-opening experience. It was a very successful launch to the KPI program in Cambodia, which will only continue to grow and impact society."

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