When Abby Norman slips on her Dutch women’s soccer jersey, she plays on a field that’s lush and green. The white lines are crisp, and the equipment is top notch. But Norman has experienced what soccer is like in other parts of the world—playing on dirt pitches with barefoot boys in South Africa and on cement pitches with Muslim boys in East London whose parents work the night shift.
For more than a year, Norman, a senior general studies major and Spanish minor, has been involved with Ambassadors In Sport, a nonprofit organization serving over 15 countries. Through soccer camps, clinics, prison ministry, school ministry and international tours, they hope to share the Gospel and teach valuable life skills. By giving them something constructive to do, the group also tries to keep kids off the street, where there are drugs, violence and gangs. Their organization’s slogan: “Bringing hope through football” (soccer).
Last summer during the World Cup, Norman volunteered with Ambassadors in a poverty-stricken area of Soweto, South Africa. The staff would start the day with five kids on the field, and by noon there’d be 150. “It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the kids living this way,” she says, “but they all loved soccer so much.”
Norman kept in contact with the staff in South Africa, and the director, who had moved to the London office, offered her an internship for the summer of 2011. The office manages several soccer programs in East London, a high poverty area where many of the riots took place in August.
One of Norman’s favorite projects was working with homeless men from a local shelter. Ambassadors brought the equipment, and as long as the men were physically fit and sober, they could play at the community center. Afterwards, the staff made lunch, and they gathered around for Bible study. One of the homeless men, Robbie, was in bad shape when the program began. But by the interns’ last day, he was so grateful that
he scrounged up two pounds to buy them a cake. Norman was touched—and proud to see him start looking for a job.
While working for Ambassadors, Norman also got the chance to go on a playing tour with 14 other women throughout Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Later, she coached day camps for kids in Cleveland and Philadelphia, overseeing the 4- to 6-year-olds. “You have to be really organized,” she says. “Even if you have two seconds free, you’ll lose five kids because they’re wandering off somewhere.”
After all that she’s seen through Ambassadors, Norman is amazed how a passion for soccer can connect people from all over the world. She explains: “You don’t need language to communicate when you have the common language of soccer.”