The relationship between Grassroot Soccer and the Peace Corps dates back to 2005. After initially hearing about the organization, a small number of Peace Corps Volunteers reached out to Grassroot Soccer (GRS) to explore delivering programs in their communities. GRS mailed copies of curriculum to Volunteers who could serve as “Coaches” facilitating practices for adolescents in their respective communities, and invited others to attend trainings with various partner organizations whenever possible.
The relationship continued in this unofficial and small-scale way for several years until a partnership was formalized through a global memorandum of understanding (MOU) in November 2011. “Peace Corps SKILLZ” became the official name for the sport-based, youth-friendly GRS program specific to Peace Corps Volunteers, Counterparts, and posts globally, and the dedication to this relationship from both Peace Corps and GRS has led to tremendous scale with significantly more growth expected in the future.
In May 2016, recognizing the success of the initial MOU and the desire to further strengthen and sustain the Peace Corps SKILLZ programs within the agency, GRS and Peace Corps’ Office of Global Health and HIV (OGHH) signed a three-year Cooperative Agreement with the following goals: 1) to develop and/or adapt new curricula; 2) to build sustainability/transfer ownership of PC SKILLZ programs to Peace Corps, and 3) to continue monitoring and evaluating and learning from best practices within the partnership.
In order to work toward Goal 2 in May 2019, Grassroot Soccer and Peace Corps co-hosted a two-week sustainability workshop in Cape Town, South Africa for 30 Peace Corps staff members from 14 different countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Ecuador, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Funded by PEPFAR, three GRS Master Trainers and four Peace Corps OGHH staff members co-facilitated an exciting ten days of interactive sessions. The goal of the workshop was to build a community of practice and transfer the knowledge and skills necessary so that Peace Corps staff are able to effectively train on PC SKILLZ programming within their respective posts.
At the workshop, training participants were immersed in the theory and structure of Grassroot Soccer programming as well as the core inputs necessary to sustain the PC SKILLZ program. Participants distinguished the roles and responsibilities of GRS Coaches, Master Coaches, and Trainers; identified the practical and logistical requirements to coordinate PC SKILLZ for Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and Counterparts in their countries of service; mastered key content across the diversity of programming available for PCVs and Counterparts; and learned how to integrate PC SKILLZ into the training continuum at individual posts.
Robin Namoto, the Education Program and Training Specialist for Peace Corps Malawi in attendance at the workshop, shared, “Youths are always eager to be engaged in interventions but we need sustainable approaches that encompass their needs. GRS takes care of that by being participatory [and] supporting Volunteers implementing sustainable interventions at a grassroots level.”
By the end of the first week, participants built a culture of ownership, expertise, and support of PC SKILLZ programming that would ensure the sustainability of Grassroot Soccer at posts. During the second week, participants were equipped with the knowledge, practical skills, and resources necessary to facilitate Trainings of Coaches within their Peace Corps posts, to integrate PC SKILLZ programming within existing Peace Corps frameworks, and to maintain the program with fidelity.
Now that the training is over, a number of Peace Corps posts have been able to facilitate PC SKILLZ trainings in-house. Master Coaches and Trainers from PC Lesotho, PC Cameroon, PC Tanzania, PC Malawi, PC Mozambique, PC Eswatini, and PC Zambia have delivered trainings to PCVs and Counterparts in their respective posts. GRS and OGHH will continue to support Peace Corps posts as staff members take a leading role in planning PC SKILLZ programs, delivering trainings to PCVs and Counterparts, and supporting these newly trained Coaches as they deliver PC SKILLZ interventions to young people.