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The Power of a Ball

Mpakani villagers practice before a match. Photo credit: Ali Miller / University of Wisconsin-Madison

A small purchase by Wisconsin women’s ice hockey player Brittany Ammerman led to a big empowering moment for women in two small Kenyan villages.

Brittany Ammerman

Ammerman, a senior left wing for the Badgers, made a trip to Kenya in summer 2013. The purpose of her journey was to teach Kenyans, particularly women in rural villages, about healthcare issues such as disease, nutrition, maternal health and sexual health. The trip was also a field-study requirement for Ammerman’s minor in global health.

While in Mombasa, Kenya, Ammerman bought a soccer ball because she thought it would help pass the time during down times during her monthlong stay in the rural village of Lunga Lunga. A year later, the activity to pass the time has turned into a women’s soccer league in rural Kenya.

The 13 women who took part in the educational health-related sessions that were conducted through the nonprofit organization Health by Motorbike enjoyed playing the game so much that they asked Ammerman’s professor, Araceli Alonso, if they could organize times and play regularly.

“The year before the women who took part in the program asked my professor for a domestic violence workshop, and she was expecting them to say something along those lines this time, too,” said Ammerman, who led Wisconsin with 44 points her junior season. “Instead they said they wanted their villages to play against each other in soccer.”

Because bringing the soccer ball along was Ammerman’s idea, Alonso tasked her student with making the fledgling soccer “league” come alive. Ammerman, who was one of the 10 finalists for the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award that goes to the national player of the year in ice hockey, raised more than $1,500 through a campaign to sell T-shirts with the Health by Motorbike logo on them.

With the money, Ammerman was able to outfit with soccer gear –including shoes, socks and jerseys – women’s teams from the villages of Mpakani and Jirani. The first game of the Nikumbuke (which means “Remember me” in Swahili) Women's Soccer League took place in June.

Ammerman, who is majoring in gender and women’s studies, was planning to attend in person with her mother, but terrorist attacks in cities where she would be traveling derailed those plans. Still, the women in Kenya played on.

“Now, there are five other villages that want to be a part of the league,” Ammerman said. “I had never envisioned it to be this big. When we get to seven villages, it can get more complicated, and we’ll have to provide busses. They will probably play a little more often. Right now they are playing once a month.”

It has been a rewarding experience for Ammerman, who has plans to become a doctor in the future.

“The men in those villages don’t have something like this, and the whole thing has taken on this women empowerment route,” Ammerman said. “I am able to go to the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship and get a great education. I’m using that to give back to others. I’m very passionate about this, and I’m planning to go back to Kenya during my spring break in March. Hopefully, I can get over there.”


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