Netball is a hybrid between handball and basketball. While boys prefer soccer, netball is the sport of choice for girls across Southern Africa. Unfortunately, funding and access to netball is often limited or takes a backseat to soccer. The Impact Network's new initiative, Netgirls Zambia empowers and improves the lives of girls by providing opportunity for growth through play and engagement in group sport. We currently operate in rural villages around Katete district in Eastern Zambia where we already completed three seasons (2014-2016) with over 60 teams and 700 girls participating each season. A season includes weekly games occurring over a several month period, practices every few days, and culminates in a tournament with prizes for the top teams. The league has proven hugely popular and successful with game results posted on the radio each week. We have a growing number of teams who want to join the league, but limited funds prevent the league from growing to meet demand. The ladies who play in our league live in poor rural villages with no electricity or running water.
Watch a clip of our girls here.
Research has shown that giving girls the opportunity to play sports has awesome benefits, including: Breaking down gender stereotypes, building leadership skills, expanding social networks, providing female mentorship and role models, teaching teamwork, building self-esteem, improving happiness through healthy, social organized activities. In Zambia, girls often miss out on opportunities to play sports because they are expected to help with chores and take care of younger siblings. In rural areas, nearly one in three girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is a teen mom, the average girl gets married at age 18 and has 6.6 children in their lifetime (ZDHS 2014).
In 2013, Dr. David Seidenfeld noticed that many girls did not have the opportunity to play sports in rural Zambia. David spent time in Katete, Zambia during the Peace Corps and has returned throughout the years as a development researcher. He teamed up with Dr. Amber Peterman, a gender specialist who focuses on women's and girl's health to discuss how this gap could be filled. They realized that with very few resources, and with a little help, they could start their own league focusing on the adolescent girls and netball. For the first season, David and Amber recruited local Katete philanthropist, business owner, and sports lover, Mr. Yahya Collector to found the first rural netball league for girls. The league was run through a combination of own funding, in addition to donations from their friends and family. In 2015, Netgirls Zambia affiliated with the e-learning and education NGO, Impact Network to expand and improve the league. Now the league is vibrant part of the community culture with players and community members all looking forward to games and the tournament each year.
Ad-hoc teams exist in rural areas, however many lack proper equipment, structure and support to operate in an organized way. To change that, we piloted a league in 2014 which had approximately 50 teams and 600 girls aged 15 to 22. The teams were coached by volunteers and managed at the ward level by local staff. Teams practiced daily and held games with teams from neighboring villages on weekends. Scores and game recaps were announced on local radio and as the girls’ fan base in the villages grew. The league culminated with a tournament to determine the highly sought after district champions. The league was a smashing success so it expanded in following years to more areas with as many as 80 teams and 1,000 girls. Initially the focus has been on athletics, while looking for other opportunities to include self-esteem and leadership components.
The money will go to purchasing equipment (netballs, jerseys, whistles), prizes for tournaments and staff salaries. Since many of those involved in the league work on a volunteer basis, the cost of the program is less than $5 per girl for a season. In the coming season, which will run from May to October of 2017, we plan to scale up with additional support and a junior girls league for the next generation of stars. We are excited to bring the league to a new, young cohort of ladies who have expressed interest and desire to also play, but do not have the resources or organization to support them. 2017 will be an exciting time as we launch the junior girls league while continuing to grow the older girls leagues. Stay tuned for more!