Kickoff Coffee caught up with Sarah Van Vooren from Atoot, a non-profit organization that uses soccer to promote life skills, positive mentorships, and to empower marginalized young girls and women in rural areas of Nepal. Go on, scroll down and join us for a conversational journey through Nepal, and learn how this extraordinary organization is working hard to bring lasting change to Nepali youth through football and coffee.
Did you say ATOOT? “What in the world does Atoot mean” were the words that crossed my mind when I first came across the name of this football for change organization, and it turns out that it actually means “unbreakable” in the Nepali language. Atoot Cofounder and Nepali native, Mashreeb Aryal is an AIFF (ALL INDIA FOOTBALL FEDERATION) licensed coach that has worked with youth for over eight years and explains to us with absolute conviction that they took on the name Atoot because no other word better described the young girls and women they work with and the incredible challenges they overcome daily. “Our girls are viewed as a burden, and if not that, a liability. In many cases, they’ve been beaten down physically, emotionally, and mentally. Yet they still rise up, before sun-up and far past sundown, to bear all the hardships of labor and to carry on for their families at home. Simply put, they are unbreakable.
For the girls and young women in the Atoot community, “football means enjoyment, safety, and an opportunity to find their own voice.” The Atoot organization conducts integrated football sessions that include educational activities five days a week for three different age categories. Their football pitch?... A former rice paddy field now turned inclusive space where Nepali women come together to transform their reality. They enjoy their football so much that they’ve come to “disliking weekends off and holidays” because it keeps them away from the game! Their love for the game has become “Atoot”, or unbreakable.
You may wonder, what does this have to do with coffee? Atoot Cofounder and Executive Director, Sarah Van Vooren shared with us all the hard work that is needed to make their programs available to the community. Her days start around 5:30 am and often going into extra time late in the night. Not only is coffee an essential part of helping her get through her day, but she also shares a unique tradition with her staff teammates and sometimes even with some of the group of Nepali girls and women that participate in their soccer programs. Every morning Sarah wakes up and makes coffee for her staff teammates at Atoot. After brewing she takes the coffee to the pitch in a large thermos ready to serve. After they go through their educational exercises right before all the football begins, coffee brings the group together like a pre-match ritual moments before they make their way out onto the old rice paddy pitch.
As you may know, Nepal is home to eight of the world’s ten highest peaks, offering some ideal climates to grow coffee. Although coffee is relatively new to Nepali society, Gulmi, Arghakhanchi, Pyuthan, Palpa and Syangia Districts have become large coffee producing regions in Nepal. As the young generation of Nepalis embrace coffee culture, Atoot continues to work around the clock as they aim “to increase the value and social status of women and improve their community’s awareness” as they continue to stand up collectively for equal rights, access to quality education, opportunities in sport, and against gender-based discrimination.