There is a poverty-stricken city in Paraguay called Tobati, where 70 percent of the population lives in relative poverty. In Tobati, men make bricks by hand while women labor as domestic servants for as little as $1 per day. Children work, too, with under-resourced schools operating in short shifts so they have time to contribute what they can to their families’ incomes. There is only one medical clinic in Tobati, and it faces a severe shortage of basic supplies, so malnutrition and other serious ailments are common among the residents.
This March, the Stevens women’s soccer team hopes to bring some much needed aid – and joy – to the people of Tobati, when they spend their college Spring Break week there.
During the trip, the players and coaching staff will work alongside other American and Paraguayan volunteers to build critical infrastructure like classrooms and medical outposts. They’ll also spread their love for “the beautiful game,” with special focus on introducing and promoting soccer – the world’s most popular sport – to young Tobati girls.
“We are very thankful for the opportunity we have been given here at Stevens, and now we want to help other people,” said Stevens Head Women’s Soccer Coach Jeff Parker. “The chance to do it through soccer – the ultimate team game – is incredible.”
The team’s trip is coordinated through Team Tobati, a nonprofit organization of educators and students who are dedicated to improving the standard of living for Tobati youths by improving the local education and healthcare infrastructure.
Team Tobati was founded in 1998 by Ronald Garcia, a Connecticut high school Spanish teacher who is the son of Paraguayan immigrants. For 15 years, the organization’s volunteers have constructed classrooms and schools, funded important social programs, and supported medical services and initiatives. In addition, each March more than 100 students from Garcia’s high school embark on a two-week service trip to Tobati.
The Stevens women’s soccer program learned of Team Tobati from Laura Williamson, former assistant coach. Williamson attended high school with Garcia and volunteered with Team Tobati on two prior occasions.
“Laura was one of the few women on the annual trip who would actually play soccer with the people of Tobati,” said Parker. “It was her dream to take an American college women’s soccer team down there to show them that women can play the game as well.”
Although Williamson is now the head women’s soccer coach at Vassar, current players on the Stevens team turned her dream into a reality. Each raised $2,500 to pay for airfare and expenses and fund the ongoing community service work in the area. One senior, Nicole Serino, even created a YouTube video - part of a class project in the Business & Technology program - to generate and track donations.
In addition to their service work, the team will also compete in four soccer matches during the week, taking on two university and two professional opponents from Paraguay. They’ll wear special jerseys featuring the American and Paraguayan flags in the games.
“We feel like we are not only representing Stevens, but the entire United States,” said Parker, who believes Stevens will be the first U.S. women’s college program to ever compete in Paraguay.
Parker said the trip – his team’s first-ever foreign tour – is a true reflection of his team’s core values: energy, attitude, effort, thankfulness and servitude.
“The first three are easy to measure every day on the field, but this trip is really about living out the last two,” he said.
Parker hopes the trip is a uniting force for positive change, inspiring other students, athletes and volunteers to give back to those less fortunate.
For more on the Stevens women’s soccer team’s service trip to Tobati, read blog posts and view photos sent directly by the players on the women’s soccer website.