On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can find Souvenir heading down to the field early for informal time. He’s often wearing his signature shirt—a sleeveless, white tunic-style top with a black stripe down the center—and hanging around the wooden goal posts, awaiting Head Coach Minko to kick soccer balls his way.
Souvenir, 15, joined KPI in 2018 and he was initially reserved and indifferent, not fully participating in the Let’s Play Fair program. But when Souvenir expressed interest in wanting to become a football goalkeeper, Head Coach Minko jumped on this opportunity to not only help him improve his skills but to also take this time to connect, build trust and better understand who Souvenir was as a person. Through consistently spending this time with him, Head Coach Minko learned more about his difficult upbringing, including losing his father when he was very young, and slowly uncovered the true Souvenir within his reserved exterior. Overtime all the coaches began to see a positive shift in his attitude and actions; he was more outgoing and engaging with his peers and his goalkeeper skills also improved. Now, Souvenir is enthusiastic while on the KPI field and eager to contribute his thoughts and opinions during team time. “I like team time because we talk to each other and have positive conversations,” he says. “As a group, both girls and boys, we discuss how together we can impact our communities.”
Most importantly to the mission of KPI, Souvenir shifted his mindset in the way he views women and girls. Before joining the program, he admits to doubting the skills and abilities of girls, especially when it came to playing sports. But now, not only have his own views changed, he urges others in the community to adopt gender equitable behavior. For example, Souvenir is part of a neighborhood kids’ cooperative for money saving. “Before KPI, only boys [in the cooperative] could be elected leaders,” he says. “But now, I helped everyone understand and see that girls can be among our leaders and are good decision makers and now the vice president and secretary are both girls.” The program coordinators and coaches have all been inspired by the transformation of Souvenir from indifferent and withdrawn to a fully engaged player who advocates for and supports his male and female peers both on and off the field.