A first day.

A new dawn.

On February 1, amidst hope, smiles and blue skies, WISER’s boarding school for girls in Muhuru Bay, Kenya welcomed its first 30 students. Their arrival culminated the work of distinguished educators on two continents eager to reverse generations of treating women in the Muhuru Bay area as second-class citizens, and to transform the impoverished fishing community on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake. WISER (Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research) is a four-year partnership between Duke University in the U.S. and Kenya’s Egerton University. The LAFC Foundation contributed funding for the WISER school, the first girls boarding school in Muhuru Bay. LAFC has made a three-year commitment to construct a sports field and create a soccer program that will promote an active lifestyle and serve as a magnet for community programming.

Muhuru Bay suffers from high rates of malaria and HIV. Girls have often been the victims, orphaned at young ages and sometimes forced into prostitution. Just 5 percent of Muhuru Bay girls finish their secondary education. WISER will offer fresh opportunities for these girls, teens and adults — all receiving full scholarships — to pursue their education. One of the first students accepted was 36 years old. The WISER school is aiming to have 120 students by the time the first class graduates in 2013. Students will follow a liberal arts curriculum, including English, science, mathematics and language.

A ceremony in early January to celebrate the completion of the school drew more than 1,500 people, including the immigration minister in Kenya’s government, and featured speeches and song. The first day of classes was more contemplative but equally moving. Students moved into their dorm rooms, picked up uniforms, books and school supplies and met the school’s five teachers and principal. The classrooms have the first white boards and highest ratio of microscopes to students in Nyanza Province, where Muhuru Bay is located. “As I watched each girl walk into her classroom and sit at her own desk on her own chair, I began to imagine the possibilities that await all of us,” said Andy Cunningham, WISER’s executive director and co-founder in an email to fellow co-founders, professors Sherryl Broverman and Rose Odhiambo. “I began to imagine the possibilities that await all of us. Could we be looking at the first female Kenyan president? Absolutely! Could there be the next African there be the next African Nobel Peace Prize winner in our midst? Absolutely!”

11 / February / 2010  Latest News, WISER  Comments (0)

LAFC President and founder Don Sheppard (upper right) and actor Matt Damon have more in common than you’d think. Both are fans of English Premier League soccer. Witness their attendance February 7 at historic Stamford Bridge, home field of Chelsea FC. They watched Chelsea thrash rival Arsenal 2-0 behind two Didier Drogba goals. Sheppard and Damon are humanitarians committed to transforming underserved communities worldwide. The LAFC Foundation builds soccer fields and programs that promote healthier, more active lifestyles and connect families to vital services. Over the years, Damon has supported numerous worthy causes and organizations. Recently, through the group ONEXONE, Damon has worked with partners to provide children with clean water, food, improved education and healthcare. Yet aside from Damon’s Academy Award, there are strong differences between the two, not the least of which is that while Sheppard has been a semi-regular presence at Chelsea games, Damon is reportedly a Tottenham Hotspurs fan.

9 / February / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)

The LAFC Foundation announced that it would team with the USC Institute for Global Health to help improve health in Mexico, Ethiopia and the Middle East through community soccer programs. The Foundation will build soccer fields and establish leagues that promote physical activity, and draw families to social and healthcare services. USC will assess current programs, identify factors that lead to poor health in communities and recommend solutions. Together, the organizations will engage community leaders and others wielding influence to spur awareness, so that programming will reach as many people as possible. They will invest in educational resources, and in curriculum and campaigns for promoting healthier lifestyles. The programs themselves will include nutrition education and disease prevention through a healthy, active lifestyle, although their exact make-up will vary by area.

Many impoverished, urban communities in Mexico suffer from high rates of diabetes, a disease linked to poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Ethiopia and parts of the Middle East are facing high rates of chronic and infectious diseases. Many of these ailments would be preventable through better nutrition and increased physical activity. Concurrently, Ethiopia has in recent years built 20 universities and many schools. But the country still lacks facilities for recreation. LAFC is already committed to build a field in the city of Mekelle, in northern Ethiopia. The field, rimmed by a running track, will serve as a community magnet. Area residents will be able to access drinkable water, healthy foods and health and educational information.

The LAFC Foundation is careful in its selection of partners. It seeks organizations and individuals with a record of addressing issues linked to poverty and conflict. The directors of the USC Institute for Global Health, professors Jonathan Samet and Heather Wipfli, are widely respected researchers on global health issues. Dr. Samet is an expert on chronic disease and environmental health research and control. He has worked extensively in Latin America and Asia. Professor Wipfli directed international projects for the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University. “We see great promise in this partnership,” said Don Sheppard, the LAFC Foundation’s founder and president. “We look forward to building programs that can reverse tragic health trends that have existed for decades in these parts of the world. We believe that the fields that LAFC builds open doors and change lives.”

2 / February / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)

The LAFC Foundation and soccer star Clarence Seedorf’s Champions for Children foundation announced that they will pursue joint projects worldwide. The non-profit organizations will build soccer-based community centers in underserved areas. These facilities will give children and teens more opportunities to participate in physical activity. They will also draw families to important social, academic and healthcare resources.

The LAFC Foundation and Champions for Children will raise money together for these projects. The groups have used similar models to pursue their goal of helping communities achieve better health and education. The LAFC Foundation has constructed soccer fields, and provided uniforms, equipment and coaching in Kenya and near its Los Angeles-area base, and is currently developing similar projects in South Africa and Ethiopia. The organization works with universities, and widely respected community and nonprofit groups on many of its initiatives. Seedorf’s organization builds schools and sports-focused, community centers. In its first project, Champions for Children created a community center in Almere, the Netherlands, a low-income area to the country’s north. Seedorf’s family moved to Almere from their native Suriname when he was a boy. The center includes a turf soccer field, basketball, tennis and badminton courts.

Seedorf plays for the Italian Series – A club AC Milan and is one of the world’s best-known soccer players. But he also has a reputation as a humanitarian interested in helping inner city and third world communities. “Together, the LAFC and Champions for Children foundations will become a more powerful, socially responsible force,” said Don Sheppard, the founder and President of the LAFC Foundation. “Both organizations believe strongly that we will complement each other’s work in helping underserved communities globally. We intend on building centers that will be the starting point for youth to live healthier, better lives.”

2 / February / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)