youth development

The Versatility of the LtN Experience: Rachel Ziemba

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With my return to school rapidly approaching, I can confidently look back and say, what an awesome summer! I luckily got to spend June and July working for LtN in the sweaty yet beautiful Bocas. Seeing LtN’s Panama presence turn just one year old, my fellow interns and I were all reminded of both the progress that had been made in such short time and the great potential to grow that still remained.

Taking this potential as inspiration for action, we all divvied up the many things we hoped to accomplish in order to leave LtN Panama a little better than we found it and got to work. I took the lead on analyzing and reorganizing LtN’s metrics and evaluation methods in place for Nicaragua programs. In addition, I developed a similar system for Bocas, something that had yet to materialize due to the growing nature of our programs there.

Working in a foreign country for a small non-profit with a relatively new presence in the area, this summer proved to be equally as challenging as valuable. I learned to navigate working with limited resources, mastering the art of improvisation and problem solving. Cultivating genuine trust with the local community by immersing myself wholeheartedly also required me to take a few worthwhile steps outside my comfort zone.

“For a Biology major with aspirations to become a physician one day, what struck me most about my time with LtN was how I will be able to transfer all that I learned to my academic discipline and intended career path."

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For a Biology major with aspirations to become a physician one day, what struck me most about my time with LtN was how I will be able to transfer all that I learned to my academic discipline and intended career path. While the actual work I do will change one day, it will do so in name only, as the principles that govern working to improve the lives of others using creative, modest methods and solutions will remain the same. Similarly, I know one day I’ll be able to point to my experience connecting with the players and parents of Bocas as a strong foundation for the ability to establish honest, natural relationships with patients and families.

While interning with LtN this summer, I learned to make the most of the available resources to maximize the benefit of my presence anywhere for whomever I may serve.  My biggest dream for the future is to be able to care for people in the greatest need, and I’m grateful to LtN for giving me the tools to accomplish my dreams. I sincerely hope that one day I may be able to use my newly-minted background in a small, international non-profit organization to work for a humanitarian cause and help make the world a better place. 

As a final sendoff I must say THANK YOU to LtN for an amazing and valuable summer. I will forever carry with me the countless lessons learned in Bocas.

LtN Impact: Physical Limitations Can't Limit Eybar

LtN Impact: Physical Limitations Can’t Limit Eybar

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Eybar arrived to the Bocas Community Center where we hold practices one afternoon in November with his brother. It was during a group trip, and I was sitting on the porch of the community center with Karen (one of our volunteers visiting with the group).  Karen noticed Eybar eagerly watching everyone play pick up before practice, so she asked him if he was interested in playing. Eybar shook his head “no”.

Polaroid photos of Caroline, Karen, and Eybar on Eybar’s first day of lacrosse in Bocas del Toro.

Polaroid photos of Caroline, Karen, and Eybar on Eybar’s first day of lacrosse in Bocas del Toro.

I should probably mention before moving forward with my story that Eybar has physical limitations, but by no means do they limit him. Eybar uses a wheelchair.

Not being able to communicate in Spanish, Karen used creativity to express a powerful message to Eybar. She pulled up a video from youtube of wheelchair lacrosse and we asked if he would watch with us. Eybar began watching the video and his eyes lit up with excitement.  He became so engrossed in the video that he leaned over to get closer to the screen and almost fell into Karen’s lap. Seeing the enormous smile on Eybar’s face almost brought tears to my eyes, I had never seen someone become so empowered by something.

After watching the video, we asked Eybar again if he wanted to play.  This time he responded by immediately reaching for my stick. I put him in his wheelchair and took him out to the beach so he could experience the new game he just discovered.

We started out with everyone’s favorite drill, steal the bacon. At first, Eybar asked me if I would wheel him around. I gladly accepted his request and when his number was called, I would wheel him out to go after the ball. His determination was striking.  I could not keep up. He was so fierce, constantly wanting to attack and go after the ball. After that drill my face hurt from smiling and laughing so hard. It was such a joy seeing Eybar having what seemed like the time of his life. It didn’t take long until he took the field on his own.

“After a water break, I asked if he wanted to play in the scrimmage. He replied that he wanted to sit out for a little. Only five minutes later came the most powerful moment I may have witnessed.”

Eybar - AKA the Ninja in Goal.

Eybar - AKA the Ninja in Goal.

After a water break, Eybar was watching the scrimmage from the sideline when I noticed his face overcome with this determined look.  He slowly removed himself from his wheelchair and grabbed a stick from the bag. He was heading to the field. You could see it in his eyes, he was not stopping until he got to our 3x practice goal. When he arrived at the cage, he positioned himself in front of the net, declaring himself the designated goalie for the rest of practice. Every time someone came up with the ball he immediately shouted, demanding the ball in his stick. He would dive to save shots, eager to get the ball any point it was remotely close to him. This kid was a ninja.

After practice was over, I went to sit on the steps.  Eybar came over with an orange and sat next to me asking if I would like to share with him.  We sat on the steps for a couple minutes just talking and eating the orange, when suddenly I felt arms clench around my waist.  He leaned closer to my ear and said, “gracias”. I struggled to hold back tears.

This is a moment I will hold on to for the rest of my life. There were many factors that led to Eybar’s discovery that day, from our determined and caring volunteers to our supportive players who now call themselves Eybar’s teammates. If not for Karen’s brilliant idea, Eybar may have never included himself in practice that day.

Teammate and friend, Anthony, posing with Caroline and Eybar after practice.

Teammate and friend, Anthony, posing with Caroline and Eybar after practice.

Watching Eybar transform from a discouraged kid to a fearless warrior on the field reminded me of what this program means and why it started. Sure, the sport itself is fun. But, it is so much more than that. I love getting to teach lacrosse in a community that has no prior knowledge of what the sport is.  From my time here in Panama, I see examples of it every day. We use this sport to empower and motivate kids like Eybarto believe in themselves and build the confidence to try new things.

— Caroline Rath, LtN Panama Program Director

Deportistas - One Year in the Making!

Happy International Women’s Day 2018 from our deportistas (female athletes) in Nicaragua!

Last International Women’s Day, LtN had just started up its girls-only program down in Nicaragua - spurred by the addition of boys’ equipment to our co-ed practices, the presence of a female program director and strong female coach, Darien, along with a donation of women’s equipment from Princeton Lacrosse.

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Our girls-only program started out with former program director, Brooke Wilson, spending time at Chiquilistagua public school during recess. After teaching English class in the school, Brooke would bring out the donated women’s equipment to pass around with anyone who showed interest. In our first blog post about starting the program, Brooke reflected on her efforts.

The creation of a women’s program will take some time. Interest for the sport needs to grow organically – similarly to how we started our co-ed programs years back. I spend time at Chiquilistagua on Monday and Thursday afternoons, so that girls can join during recess or come outside of the co-ed practice time to receive girl-specific instruction. Right now, we have five girls who have been attending outside of co-ed participants, with new ones showing interest.

And show interest they did! Looking back a year from today, we have so many moments to attribute the establishment of the current girls’ program to…

Thanks to three groups of amazing female players coming down this past summer (shout out to Richmond Women’s Lacrosse, Code Lacrosse, and CNU Women’s Lacrosse), we were able to recruit new players for the program, give one-on-one instruction in a practice setting, and show the girls how fun lacrosse can be. The ability of the U.S. women’s players from our summer groups to connect with, teach, and serve as role models for our young girls became the catalyst for the program’s launch.

"I love being a coach because I enjoy spending time with the girls and getting to know each one of them. I love seeing how excited they are to play lacrosse! I hope the program continues growing and that we can expand to other schools."

"I love being a coach because I enjoy spending time with the girls and getting to know each one of them. I love seeing how excited they are to play lacrosse! I hope the program continues growing and that we can expand to other schools."

Additionally, at the close of last summer, Darien, along with our other Nicaraguan coaches, received comprehensive coaching training from STICK WITH IT! Lacrosse, who visited LtN’s sites in early September. Thanks to Stick With It’s training program, Coach Darien was equipped with more drills, expanded leadership skills, and heightened confidence as she has stepped up into the head coaching role.

This year, the program now runs full force! Instead of impromptu recess sessions, the girls formally practice three times a week, with an hour-long practice before school on Monday mornings. With 28 girls attending each week, Darien leads practices with Program Director, Susan Hyman as her assistant. LtN’s girls-only program not only provides these young ladies with their own space to play, learn, and develop life skills; it will also, hopefully, begin to provide them with sessions from a guest speaker this season!

Peace Corps member and former lacrosse player, Brynn Miller, is looking to feature Peace Corps’ curriculum focusing on female empowerment within Nicaragua’s machismo culture. Brynn approached LtN when looking for a platform to introduce her curriculum, expressing that a sport-focused environment is an ideal space to hold discussions concerning self-confidence and positive relationships with others. The aim will be to incorporate this curriculum into Coach Darien’s training, in order for these discussions to continue in our practices for years to come.

As you can see, LtN has a lot to be celebrating on this International Women’s Day! The addition of our girls-only programming has expanded LtN’s reach and continues to spread the impact sport is having on our youth.