Anna Phillips is helping the girls of Uganda – one soccer game at a time.
Phillips, a junior majoring in international affairs and global public health from San Diego, is the founder of the Girls Kick The program, which establishes soccer and other sport teams for displaced girls and young women in war-torn northern Uganda.
The humanitarian aid project is aimed at helping displaced girls living in poor conditions in camps for Internally Displaced People due to the civil war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government. Many of the people living in the camps were abducted by rebel armies or traumatized by the ongoing 20-year civil war. The girls in these camps were often used as sex slaves and witnessed the effects of war.
Phillips’ inspiration to start this program came from seeing these conditions first hand.
“In the IDP camps there is nothing for the young girls to do and any creative outlet would be good for them,” Phillips said. “Some of my girls from the camp were abducted for years and used as wives or sex slaves.”
She first traveled there after her high school graduation and spent time climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and sitting in on United Nations talks about the Rwandan genocide. She traveled there again with a program for the Global Youth Partnership for Africa, who ended up helping her launch the Girls Kick It program and returned again this fall.
“I was a college girl with a strong interest, so they helped me get started,” Phillips said.
She has spent the last six months in Northern Uganda laying the foundations for her program.
An athlete on the rugby team at GW, Phillips was involved in wrestling in high school, and said playing sports can be positive for women.
“I’ve played a lot of normally male-dominated sports and I realized that it really levels the playing field for girls – it is very empowering,” she said.
While visiting Africa the summer after her high school graduation, Phillips developed a specific interest in working to help the many impoverished people on the continent. “There is an overwhelming need in Africa,” Phillips said.
Starting the program wasn’t easy, Phillips said. She raised the funds for the program through private donations and besides the difficulties of fund raising, she learned the realities of being an aid worker.
“I learned that it’s a slow process. You don’t get out there and start to help people immediately, like you think,” Phillips said.
Phillips noted some of the success that the program has already had. Two teams, comprised entirely of girls, have already been created in Northern Uganda. Also this past September some of the girls from the program were sent to the Homeless World Cup, a soccer tournament for teams of underprivileged children from around the world.
Besides the fact that starting a non-profit organization is difficult, Phillips was still a full-time student at GW. She dealt with the challenges of getting the money to travel and making time for her classes.
“Although grades are important to me, this is my first priority,” Phillips said. She went on to say that “people make choices – some people choose to party in their free time; I chose to start Girls Kick It.”
She plans to keep this program a priority in her life. After she graduates, Phillips hopes to continue heading up Girls Kick It and wants to expand the program to more African countries.