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USA CUP staff members Clinton LaBeau and Jen Een visit Haiti to witness true passion for soccer

07/13/2017, 5:35pm CDT
By Mary Brickner, Media Intern

When Schwan’s USA CUP director Jen Een and international team recruiter Clinton LaBeau landed in Haiti last April, they were shocked at what they saw. The game of soccer was still embedded into Haitian culture, but it looked a lot different than what they were used to. The soccer field was in a parking lot, garbage was piled along the street and clean water was hard to come by. But perhaps the most shocking part of it all was the positive energy that radiated throughout the slums

USA CUP in Haiti

Clinton LaBeau, left, and Jen Een, right, with Tony Sanneh, founder of The Sanneh Foundation.

Over 1,000 teams will gather at this year’s USA CUP, with eight of those coming from Haiti. This number would not be possible without retired professional soccer player Tony Sanneh, who began The Sanneh Foundation in 2003 to help urban youth in the Twin Cities. But once he traveled to Haiti and saw how the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country in 2010, he created Haitian Initiative (HI), a program for Haitian children that uses soccer as a catalyst against poverty.

Since the program’s beginning, HI has sent over 60 Haitian children to play in USA CUP through its exchange program. Because of HI’s close ties to the tournament, Een and LaBeau had the opportunity to travel to Cite Soleil, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to experience the program’s impact firsthand.

“The National Sports Center has been an important partner of The Sanneh Foundation since we brought our first Haitian Initiative team from Cite Soleil to USA CUP in 2011,” Tod Herskovitz, director of communications at The Sanneh Foundation, said. “So it was very meaningful to include Clinton and Jennifer as participants in our U.S. State Department sponsored International Sports Programming Initiative exchange to Haiti.”

“For those kids, it’s a great way to start to make a living or try to do something better for their lives,” LaBeau said. “By doing that program, that’s a way where they can get out or make a better life for the situation that they’re given.”

The kids in the program receive two hours of English instruction per day and practice soccer six days per week. The meal they are served through Feed My Starving Children is often their only meal of the day. Despite their circumstances, the kids make the most of their situation.

“We’re used to grass and turf and nice things, and they practice on a gravel parking lot and a sand parking lot,” LaBeau said. “There’s debris in there that could hurt them, but they’re still enjoying the game.”

“Those kids and those people had smiles on their faces; they were happy, and they had nothing,” Een added.

A group of Haitian Initiative teams pose for a photo at the Haitian Initiative training facility in Cite Soleil, Haiti.

The program relies heavily on donations, and the soccer community always comes through. Although they were in a different country, the world seemed just a little bit smaller to Een and LaBeau after they saw children wearing their donations.

 “We saw so many people there with the USA CUP shirts and the USA CUP backpacks,” Een said. “It was pretty cool, and it made us want to work harder to bring them even more donations.”

The trip was very impactful, and it offered a change in perspective for USA CUP. They both hope to continue these trips and branch out to other countries in the future.

“You see how grateful they are when you visit their country and that you came to see them and talk about the tournament,” Een said.

“When the teams are able to come, we’re able to connect with them and have a relationship with them because we know what they’ve been through,” LaBeau added.

The Sanneh Foundation is pleased that there will be a greater understanding of the Haitian community at USA CUP.

“I think it was meaningful for Clinton and Jennifer to see the obstacles these kids have to overcome to make the trip to Minnesota for USA CUP,” Herskovitz said. To see their lack of facilities, the dirt fields they play on and the shoes the National Sports Center has helped us collect in the Kick It Back program on the feet of the kids in Cite Soleil.”

Haitian Initiative will be represented by two teams in this year’s weeklong tournament: A 15U boys team from Carrefour, and a 13U boys team from Petion Ville. Their unique background and style of play is something that soccer players and fans won’t want to miss.

“Don’t just come for your game and then go home,” LaBeau said. “Definitely go check out Haitian teams because they’ll play a totally different way than teams in the U.S., so it’s always cool to go and see other countries play.”

Tag(s): July 13, 2017