Sarah Nieburg spent her childhood traveling for soccer, but last summer it took the Randolph-Macon College student-athlete farther than ever: to rural Ghana, where she spent six weeks encouraging gender empowerment through sport.
Using a $10,000 grant from the Davis United World College Scholars Program, Nieburg supplied balls, cleats and uniforms to two teams in northern Ghana. The players were girls ages 12 to 17, and next to the practice fields, each team had a one-acre plot of land where they could plant crops to sell for school supplies and sanitary needs. Nieburg, an international studies major who graduated this past spring, provided each team with $500, and funds from harvesting can be used for soccer gear the following year.
The culmination of her trip was an organized match sponsored by Right to Play, which uses sports to educate youth. The goals were made of nailed-together wooden sticks; sideline officials used branches for flags. While the field equipment wasn’t ideal, the girls played before more than 1,000 spectators, and for many, it was their first time competing in a real game.
After the match, Nieburg noticed one of the girls crying. The match was the first time the 16-year-old’s parents had come to watch her play. “I even started sobbing,” Nieburg said. “The parents now realize that this has such a positive impact on their lives. Her parents are now proud of her.”
Randolph-Macon recently awarded Nieburg with the Pepper and Stuart Laughon Commitment to Community Award, which came with $1,000 to donate to a Randolph-Macon program of her choice. When benefactor and alumnus Pepper Laughon heard about her program, he donated another $2,000 to the team to continue the work Nieburg started in Ghana.