Support Youth Softball Through PALS in Sierra Leone!
We are excited and honored to announce that Philadelphia Adult League Softball will be hosting our latest softball service trip to Sierra Leone in West Africa in June 2022! From Thursday, June 16 through Monday, June 27, 2022, this trip will take a team of 19 participants to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone in West Africa. There we will facilitate a free four-day USA Quickball softball and baseball skills camp for 150 young people from soccer teams in the Western Area Football Association. All campers will receive lunch, and each participating team will receive a complete softball equipment set so that they can continue play after camp ends. We will also conduct trainings with adult soccer coaches so that they can join us in running the camp and continue working with the youth players after we leave. And, we will host friendly adult slowpitch softball games designed for teaching and learning. In addition, we are currently coordinating with the University of Sierra Leone to support them in implementing a student softball program and will incorporate university student volunteers into our camp and clinics and will also run a university student training at the Fourah Bay College campus. We are also collaborating with the Sierra Leone Cricket Association and will host a cross-training where they train our team members in cricket and we train their youth and adult players in softball.
Furthermore, we will volunteer with and donate supplies to the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society, a non-profit run by the only practicing veterinarian in the country. We will also learn about the incredible history and see the many important cultural sights in Sierra Leone while hearing from several non-profit guest speakers during our time in-country.
We are especially thrilled that the leadership team of the Belize City Softball Association–our partners for our previous two softball service trips in Belize in 2019 and 2021–will be joining us and bringing their softball expertise and love of the game to support young people in Sierra Leone, making this a truly collaborative initiative!
We are currently raising much-needed funds to fully support the cost of the four-day camp–ensuring that it is free for each of the 150 campers–and to purchase and donate softball equipment kits to each of the participating teams and to the University of Sierra Leone. We are also raising funds to support the work of the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare society as well as other non-profit partners in the country, and to minimize participant player travel costs so that the trip is accessible to all who want to participate.
Read more to learn why this initiative is so important and see how you can get involved and help!
Why PALS in Sierra Leone?
Located on the coast of West Africa, Sierra Leone is a small, tropical country–about the size of South Carolina–with an abundance of beautiful beaches, dense rainforests, and lush mountain ranges. The 8 million people who live in the country–who collectively speak a total of 23 languages–are known for being extremely friendly and welcoming to visitors, and Sierra Leone is widely recognized for its high levels of religious tolerance and inter-religious cooperation (UNHRC, 2017). Endangered chimpanzees and pygmy hippopotamuses, along with countless other species, reside in the wilderness, and the country has vast natural resources including diamonds, gold, iron ore, and bauxite.
Sierra Leone also has a longstanding connection to the United States, as it was the site of several ports where Sierra Leoneans and other West Africans were forcibly sent–after being taken and enslaved–to the Americas as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Starting in the late 1700s, the country also served as a location for formerly enslaved people to return to Africa and resettle–providing the meaning behind the capital’s name of Freetown. After remaining a British colony until 1961, Sierra Leone experienced thriving tourism in the 1970s and 80s to the pristine sand and warm waters of the country’s Western Peninsula.
However, today, many in the United States are most familiar with Sierra Leone for its decade-long civil war led by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The conflict, which lasted from 1991 to 2002 and relied on the use of approximately 10,000 child soldiers, devastated the country and left an estimated 70,000 people dead, 1.6 million people displaced, and many others with serious long-term injuries (UNDP, 2006). Since the end of the war, the country has worked hard to rebuild and has remained stable and conflict-free for twenty years, despite facing a tragic Ebola outbreak in 2014 which killed nearly 4,000 people.
While Sierra Leone has experienced two decades free from conflict, the continued impact from many years of colonialism, resource exploitation, war, and governance issues means that life is still difficult for many of the people who live there. The country ranks 182nd out of 189 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and nearly 60% of people experience multidimensional poverty (including living on less than $2 a day) (UNDP, 2021). Life expectancy has increased significantly but remains at 54.7 years, and the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world; more mothers die in childbirth than anywhere else. And, fewer than half of individuals 15 and older are able to read (UNDP, 2021). In addition, infrastructure challenges mean that less than a quarter of the country has access to electricity (World Bank, 2021) and less than 1% of households have piped water in their home (UNICEF, 2021). Limited basic sanitation services and poor road conditions also compound the challenges of daily life.
Sierra Leone is also a very young country, with 40% of the country under the age of 14 (World Bank, 2020) and an average age of just 19.5 (UNDP, 2021). While indicators have been improving since 2010, many of these young people remain especially vulnerable, with 66% of children experiencing multidimensional poverty indicating deprivation in at least one area including shelter, health, water, nutrition, sanitation, education, or information (Stats SL, 2019). And, while in 2018 Sierra Leone eliminated school fees and made school free to children in government-approved schools, only 64% of children complete primary school and 22% complete upper secondary school (UNICEF, 2021). Poverty, gender discrimination, distance to schools, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, and a range of other factors all contribute to children not finishing school. Young people also struggle to find stable, sustainable ways to make a living (2021).
These multifaceted challenges can make it very difficult for young people in Sierra Leone to fulfill their right to play and have the opportunity to simply have fun and be kids. Many kids do not have the chance to participate in sporting activities that are so often thought of as an essential part of childhood, and lack of access to equipment is a huge barrier to participation in sports throughout the country. However, the positive impact that sports can have on young people, particularly vulnerable young people, is well known and demonstrated in research–especially when sports are introduced in a positive, inclusive way with a focus on participants’ wellbeing (UNICEF Innocenti, 2021). Sports programs, when facilitated appropriately, can promote physical as well as mental and emotional health, build confidence, improve teamwork and social skills, increase school and community participation, integrate and/or reintegrate marginalized groups, and enhance child protection (UNICEF Innocenti, 2021; RAUN, 2020; PCFSN, 2020). They can also be critically important drivers of gender equality for girls and young women (UN Women, 2020). In addition, a recent report by UNICEF found that sports increase “access to, and participation in, initiatives and services for children – including the most marginalized children. By so doing, sports promote equitable outcomes in learning, skills development, inclusion, safety, and empowerment” (UNICEF, pg. 12). The broad appeal and popularity of sports can also help include the most marginalized or otherwise hard to reach groups (UN Sport and Peace, 2021).
Sports in post-conflict societies have also been found to be a valuable tool in promoting social inclusion, integration, and cohesion, especially when focused on training and without an emphasis on competition (Council of Europe, 2011). This can be especially important in post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone, which are experiencing a “youth bulge,” and have a very large number of vulnerable young people (Bennet, 2010).
What We're Doing
During a visit to Sierra Leone in March 2020, we were approached by the coach of a local girls 14U soccer team about the possibility of working with them to help them learn the sport of softball. Many months later, we are excited to be headed back to Sierra Leone for our first softball service trip to the country to fulfill this promise–and more! Since starting in West Philadelphia in 2012, we have believed in the power of recreational softball to not only be a place for friendly competition and a source of true camaraderie and friendship, but also to be a vehicle to collectively engage the community and support the efforts of non-profits and organizations where we play, live, work, and beyond. Our players have embraced this vision and enabled us to support a wide range of projects in and around Philadelphia through monetary, in-kind, and volunteer efforts. In 2012, we even supported the construction of a rice mill in rural Kailahun District in Sierra Leone through Heifer International.
In 2019, we expanded our impact even further and hosted our first ever softball service trip to Belize, partnering with the Belize City Softball Association to support their efforts to increase access to softball and baseball for young people in the country. We facilitated youth softball clinics for over 100 young people and–through team fundraising efforts and partnerships–donated over 1,200 pounds of equipment to enable the start of softball programs at ten primary schools in Belize City. After a hiatus due to COVID-19, we returned to Belize to conduct USA Quickball clinics in coordination with four community sports clubs for over 100 young people on the Southside of Belize City and donated over 600 pounds of equipment. Now, we are excited to extend our collaboration with the Belize City Softball Association into Sierra Leone for our latest initiative and collectively work together to reduce barriers to meaningful participation in sports–and all of the benefits they can bring–for even more young people.
In Sierra Leone, we will work with several teams from the Western Area Football Association to implement a free four-day USA Quickball Softball + Baseball Skills Camp for 150 young people 14 and under to build new skills and foster learning in a supportive, positive, and inclusive environment. The young people (100 girls and 50 boys) will be divided into smaller groups by age and gender, and a full lunch and beverages will be provided as part of camp each day. If we can raise enough funds, each participant will receive a t-shirt as well. At the end of each day’s clinics, the campers will get to hear from different community leaders from a variety of fields who will speak to the group.
USA Quickball is particularly well-suited for this program because it is designed to teach fundamentals in an welcoming, fun, and low-pressure way with an emphasis on teamwork and inclusion. It is ideal for new players of all ages. We utilized this model with the girls 14U team (that we first coordinated with in March 2020) for a mini-clinic in November 2021 while in Sierra Leone on a pre-planning trip and it was received very well by the participants. We also used this model on our service trip to Belize City in August 2021 where we facilitated four community-based clinics, and with our Youth Softball + Baseball Skills Camp we held at Mill Creek in West Philadelphia in August 2021, and have witnessed its benefit firsthand.
While all of the participants currently play soccer, this will be the first experience with softball or baseball for most of them. There have been some previous local efforts to expand access to the sport in the country, but the cost and availability of equipment is a significant barrier. However, there is interest in growing the sport in-country and setting up a youth league on behalf of some of the youth soccer teams, and we will be providing full equipment kits to all of the participating teams to support this initiative. As the majority of the young people have limited exposure to softball and baseball, focusing on a new sport is also a way to level the playing field and make the experience fun and accessible for all of the participants, as they will all be learning something new together.
Prior to the four-day camp, we will conduct training for local soccer coaches in facilitating USA Quickball so that they can both run the camp with us and continue to have trainings after we leave. We will also offer refreshers for coaches throughout the week as needed. In addition, we will host friendly adult softball games designed for teaching and learning for the adult coaches so that they have the opportunity to play the game themselves.
We are also thrilled to be working with the University of Sierra Leone to support them in implementing a softball program for their university students. To familiarize themselves with the sport, interested university students will attend the coaches training and volunteer as a part of our four-day camp. Then, on Thursday, June 24, we will conduct a training at the Fourah Bay College campus specifically for university students. We will also donate equipment to enable them to kick off their program. In addition, we will host a cross-training at the cricket pitch in Kingtom with the Sierra Leone Cricket Association where we will each train each other in cricket and softball and host friendly games.
This project is an initial pilot program for what we plan will be a sustainable youth sports development initiative involving a range of partners to support the most vulnerable young people in Sierra Leone through the platform of softball and baseball, and we cannot be more excited.
To broaden our efforts even further, we will spend two afternoons volunteering with the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society (SLAWS) as well as providing desperately needed supplies, medications, and equipment. Founded in 1988 by one of only two currently practicing veterinarians in the country–Dr. Jalloh–they conduct a range of initiatives to support the welfare of both owned and stray dogs in the country, including spay and neuter, vaccinations, feeding programs, humane education, and more. As there are thousands of stray dogs in the country, and very limited access to veterinarian equipment and supplies (there is not a single x-ray machine in the country for animals, for example), we are very happy to help support their incredible work. As we have a practicing veterinarian participating as part of our team of our team, on our first afternoon of volunteering she will conduct a four-hour training with all of the staff of SLAWS on clinical procedures, orthopedic interventions, and more to help build their capacity. On the second day, we will host a free four-hour community clinic offering no-cost vaccinations, spay and neuter, and more.
How You Can Help
To do all of this, we truly need your help. Your contribution can help in three main ways:
USA Quickball Softball + Baseball Skills Camp, Coaches Training Support, + Equipment
We are collecting monetary contributions to cover the full cost of the four-day USA Quickball Softball + Baseball Skills Camp (which will be held from Monday, June 20 through Thursday, June 24) as well as the coaches training (which will be held Sunday, June 19) and the university student training (which will be held Thursday, June 24). The cost of running a completely free camp for 150 young people is significant–even when staffed entirely by volunteers who are giving their time–and your contribution will help cover the cost of the USA Quickball training sets (which we will leave at the end of the camp), daily lunch for the campers and camp volunteers, beverages, the field rental, and a t-shirt for each participant. It will also cover the cost of the field rental and lunch for the coaches’ training for 15 to 20 Sierra Leonean coaches (in addition to our 19 participants).
In addition, we are collecting monetary contributions to purchase softball and baseball equipment so that each of the participating teams from the Western Area Football Association can have their own complete equipment sets to enable them to set up their own youth league. These sets will include bats, gloves, catcher’s mitts, helmets, catcher’s sets, bases, home plates, pitcher’s plates, and team equipment bags. We are also collecting monetary contributions to purchase equipment for the University of Sierra Leone. In addition, we are collecting donations to cover the cost of checking the equipment bags on the flight to Sierra Leone.
Your contribution of:
--$5 will provide one new softball
--$20 will provide one youth batting helmet
--$40 will provide a softball glove
--$60 will provide one box of softballs
--$100 will provide one set of youth catcher’s gear
–$200 will cover the field rental for the camp
--$400 will provide gloves for one youth team (ten players)
–$500 will cover the cost of one lunch at camp
--Any amount is extremely helpful
We are also more than happy to accept donations of new and gently used softball and baseball equipment.
Animal Welfare + Non-Profit Support
We are collecting monetary contributions to purchase needed supplies, equipment, and medication for the non-profit Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Association to help them care for the thousands of owned and stray companion animals that fall under their care as one of the only practicing veterinarians in the country. In addition, we will also be making donations to the other organizations that we meet with in-country to help sustain their work, including the Center for Memory and Reparations, LEAD-SL, and the Sierra Leone Cricket Association.
We are also collecting monetary contributions to minimize the expenses of our player participants to make the service trip feasible. As cost is often a barrier to participation for service trips and travel, we want to ensure that members of the league who want to participate are not excluded because of the expense and are able to be a part of this experience. As it costs each participant $875 for lodging, transportation in-country, and travel medical insurance--plus airfare--contributions will assist with reducing these costs for players and help cover their meals, ensuring they can participate. As the players will be facilitating the camp and training clinic--while serving as ambassadors of the league--their participation is critical. To see a full list of participating players, click here
Thank you so much for your consideration and support. Any amount truly helps. We are so grateful for each of you as well as our many partners and the players who are participating and making this experience possible. We hope you will join us in making a difference through softball.
*As we are not yet a 501c3 organization, your gift is not tax-deductible but please consult a tax professional with any questions.