By Judy Wakefield
---- — A soccer-loving Andover High School graduate is looking to bring the sport to a group of girls across the globe who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to play.
Molly Klarman, who grew up in Andover on Lovejoy Road, has seen firsthand that while soccer may be the top sport in Latin countries, it is almost exclusively a pastime for boys in some areas. In Haiti, for example, girls are basically discouraged from playing soccer, she said.
So when she ended up working at a hospital in rural Haiti after earning her master’s degree, she decided to start a girls soccer team in addition to being involved with a number of different projects, she wrote in an email.
Like most kids in Andover, Klarman, a 2002 graduate of Andover High School, started playing soccer at age 6 and continued straight through high school before joining the team at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
After graduating from college in 2006 with degrees in biology and chemistry, she took a long break from soccer and went on to pursue her master’s in public health a Emory University in Atlanta, completing her degree focusing on global environmental health in 2009.
Klarman, who had spent a lot of time in Latin America and the Caribbean, with internships in Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, intended to work internationally again. This time, she set her sights on Haiti.
It was there that she really started missing soccer.
“I realized I had really missed playing, although now I’m more of a coach than a player,” she wrote.
And the girls exclusion from soccer in Haiti started bothering her.
“Soccer is the main recreational activity in Haiti, but it is almost exclusively for boys,” she wrote. “The boys are out playing in the streets every afternoon and when there is a match, the whole community comes to watch.
“We wanted to start a team for girls, too, so that they could feel comfortable playing with other girls (and) learn the rules, new techniques and skills as most of them had never played before.”
And, she goes a step further, offering the girls lessons on health education and life skills, as well as team-building activities.
“We started with about 25 girls and within a month had more than 50 girls regularly attending practice. Unfortunately, we had to start turning away girls because we don’t have the resources to accommodate so many girls,” she wrote.
Klarman’s Andover roots remind her that team sports help build character and provide valuable life lessons.
“There aren’t very many opportunities (in Haiti) for adolescents, especially girls, to socialize together and just be kids. Typically after school, they return home to do chores. ...
“One of my colleagues, Taryn Silver of Sharon, and I wanted to provide the girls here in Haiti with those same Andover opportunities. It’s been very well received in the community with lots of people offering to help, attending our activities and watching our matches,” she wrote.
But funds for things like bringing equipment to Haiti, providing water and a snack at practice and paying for transportation are limited.
Klarman is seeking donations to support the soccer program. To make a contribution or for more information, email email@example.com for her address or check out www.gofundme.com.