Along with LtN Board Chairman Greg Bice, and two of his Resolute Lacrosse staff members, we set off to explore Bogotá for 5 days. Our objective was to see if the communities we visited would accept LtN, be open to having our programs and what it would cost to get us off the ground.
International program development is no easy task. LtN has been in Panama for almost one year since we began our pilot programming, and we’ve had our fair share of hurdles - from conflicting partnerships and limited volunteer resources to site relocation for our Bocas practices. Although international development means having to accept some challenges, those challenges are usually the catalysts for incredibly beneficial growth. And that’s just what we’ve found in our Bocas community, with the help of a 10 year old.
Coming back after winter break, LtN had to find a new location for our Bocas practices, so I (Panama PD, Caroline) with the help of our volunteer, Shauna, searched high and low for a place that kids would know that’s also easily accessible to all kids who want to play. In the process of this literal scorching and sweaty bike search, Shauna and I decided to take a break and plop ourselves down by a basketball court in front of the beach to throw the lax ball around. As we were passing around, there were a couple of kids playing basketball on the court adjacent to us. Little did we know at this moment that a ton of kids live across the street and play there everyday. We thought, hey, this is a cool sport for some lacrosse, so we made it one.
Practices started out slow, but eventually more and more kids were running from across the street from their homes or leaving their soccer games on the other court to come and play with us. This is when 10 year old Laisha, became a part of the LtN family.
One afternoon, three girls were playing a game of tag on the court. Shauna and I began to talk to them and eventually asked if they wanted to play lacrosse with us. At first they were tentative, but it was Laisha who took onto the game fast. She was passing and catching in the matter of 5 minutes, helping explain the fundamentals to her two younger cousins, Karla and Reychell. From then on, she has been dominating the court!
Every practice she picks up a new skill or drill so quickly. It’s incredible to watch the progress Laisha has made in just a matter of two months. Not only has Laisha conquered the game through her skills; the lacrosse “court” has become a place where she shows great discipline. In the beginning of April we implemented a rule that if a player shows up late for practice, they have to run a lap before joining the team. Laisha showed up a couple minutes late and immediately knew what she had to do without us reminding her. She got on the line, ran a lap, went to the bag to pick up a stick and got in line for the drill. As a coach, it’s exciting to see your player embody a strong work ethic and put forth effort. What’s even more exciting is knowing that lacrosse practices are now a time where other players can observe Laisha’s work and follow by example.
Beginning this month, we’ve started handing out sticks for our players to take home at the end of the week. We decide on two players and have the team vote who they believe most deserves the stick. These players need to exemplify good sportsmanship (on and off the field), listen and be respectful during practice, and come to practice with a positive attitude. Not sure if this will come as a surprise to you at this point, but the team voted on Laisha to be our first player to receive her very own lacrosse stick.
Since receiving her own stick, Laisha has brought it to every practice with a huge smile on her face, ready to go. Seeing her run across the street for practice, stick in hand, fills me with joy because I can’t wait to see what new tricks she has up her sleeve for that day’s practice.
Hurdles in our path of program implementation brought LtN to Laisha. Laisha, in turn, has brought passion, learning, and high numbers of kids to our programs ever since. Coaching a player like Laisha is a true prize and I can’t wait to see where this game takes her. She has so much greatness ahead and has brought so much light to this program with her positivity and radiant demeanor. LtN’s international programs serve a variety of purposes; but perhaps above all, our practices give children like Laisha a platform to grow, to share her light, to push those around her forward, and to enjoy every second of the process. Thank you Laisha, we should call you LtN’s new Director of Program Development, but simply calling you our teammate is more rewarding.
LtN Panama Program Director
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”.
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.”
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.
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