Feb. 6, 2015
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Corey Burns and Amanda Lulek didn’t know what to expect when they traveled to Nicaragua with Soccer Without Borders during winter break 2014. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of their lives.
The University of Iowa soccer sophomores served as camp counselors for under-served youth in Grenada, Nicaragua, from Jan. 10-18. It was a short stay, but the impact was life-changing.
“The difference we were able to make in a week was amazing,” said Lulek. “(The kids) looked up to us so much. We couldn’t have actual conversations with them (because of the language barrier), but they would come up to us, hold our hand, and go on walks with us. They saw us as their role models.”
“It’s incredible how close you can get to those girls in a week. Having to leave them, you’re wondering what they’re doing. You want to stay and help them through everything, but you have to leave and hope you’ve inspired them in some way.”
UI sophomore Amanda Lulek
Before traveling to Nicaragua, the Hawkeye counselors had an idea of what the week would entail, but that sliver of unknown still resonated in their minds. The initial icebreaker with campers proved to be one of their best memories.
“It was the first time meeting the children, and everyone was jammed into the same place,” explained Burns. “(All of the counselors) were overwhelmed, and they surprised us with a piñata.
“We thought (the kids) would be shy, but they got the piñata out, gave one of the girls a stick, the music starts, and everyone yells ‘Dance.’ The kids all started break dancing… it was funny.”
That party kicked off a week where the campers spent mornings working on soccer fundamentals and afternoons on team and relationship-building. The counselors lived with host families throughout their stay, and at the end of the week, the Soccer Without Borders team played a competitive game against the Nicaraguan National Team — a game that ended in a 0-0 draw — an experience that was different in itself.
“We bused all the girls from camp over and they cheered for us as the Soccer Without Borders team, rather than their own national team,” said Lulek. “There were a good amount of people there, so it was even, but it was good to have the girls see us in our element and see this is what they’re working for.”
The group’s impact was felt when the time came to return home.
“The last day we saw the girls was after the Nicaragua game,” said Burns. “We went back to the office, and one of the girls wasn’t on the same bus as us, but was bawling. It was hard to see that.
“A grandmother also came over and thanked all of us, even though we had never met her. She thanked us for everything we had done with the kids.”
Burns and Lulek find themselves thinking about the campers on a regular basis, and their hope is that they’ve inspired them in even the smallest way.
“It’s incredible how close you can get to those girls in a week,” said Lulek. “Having to leave them, you’re wondering what they’re doing. You want to stay and help them through everything, but you have to leave and hope you’ve inspired them in some way.
“(You have to hope) they’re going to stay in school, keep up with their studies and soccer, and be encouraged by what we did that week to stay in it and get to where they want to be.”
Lulek says the experience made her realize she is on the right path in pursuing a degree in social work.
“Helping others is what I like to do,” she said. “I would do anything to go on this trip again. It has inspired so many ideas in my head and I want to get more people involved. I am excited to see where it takes me, and it has sparked a lot of things in my life.”
The week was life-changing.