Student: Ava Murphey-Global Studies - Carnegie Mellon University

Student: Ava Murphey

Class of 2013, Majors- Global Studies; Hispanic Studies


Ava Murphey, spent the 2010-2011 academic year volunteering in Guatemala.  During the winter break (December 2011- February 2012) of her junior year, Ava returned to Guatemala.  Ava studied abroad in Lima, Peru, during the spring 2012 semester of her junior year.

Perspectives from Abroad

During the 2010-2011 academic year, I spent 8 months in Sololá, Guatemala as a volunteer for Soccer Without Borders (SWB). It was an absolutely incredible experience. I was on a leave of absence from Carnegie Mellon and wanted to take some time to travel, experience another lifestyle, give my efforts to SWB, and refocus the direction of my life, priorities, and education.

Soccer Without Borders is an organization based in Oakland, California, that works with marginalized youth both nationally and internationally. The idea is to use soccer as a vehicle for change in the lives of the youth with whom we work. It is not all soccer- in fact, excellence in soccer is probably one of the last priorities. What I learned in my volunteer experience from the young girls of Sololá (the program focuses on girls, since they typically have no other outlet for recreational sport and are many times overshadowed by male figures) is that soccer can be used as a tool for so many things. Making new friends, forming a solid community, bringing people together, opening eyes and minds to the idea that opportunities exist and goals can me made and reached. Apart from soccer practices, we held educational, cultural, and teambuilding activities in our office. We treated the office space as a place where the girls could come and feel safe and have fun- a sort of community center.

While deciding to dedicate a year to this program and to the people of Sololá, I thought mainly about what I would be doing for others. I ended up also learning so much about my self and changing my life completely.  The experience had such an impact on me that I am back, once again.

Unfortunately, Soccer Without Borders in Sololá has undergone some structural changes and complications in the direction of the program.  There are no current volunteers with the program, but in my time away from Guatemala I maintained contact with some of the girls that we used to coach. I collected a good amount of gear and am continuing practices and activities with some of the girls, albeit at a less frequent and more casual manner.  Yet, they are still getting on the field, getting together, and playing soccer. Additionally, another local coach and I have started up a practice in a neighboring town called Panajachel.

My experience the second time around has been a very different one, but one that holds equal value for me. Instead of being incorporated with an organized NGO, I am attempting philanthropic work independently. It is something that is proving to have obstacles but also be extremely rewarding. I am also getting another perspective on Guatemala- while it is the same country and same place, it is a different environment for me. I think that I have the opportunity to grow exponentially as someone who is interested in community and youth development and volunteer work. It has been wonderful to be able to return to the place where I spent such a long and influential time of my life and revisit the lives of those who were such a large part of mine.

I am here in Guatemala until the end of February 2012, when I will go to Lima, Peru, for a semester of study abroad with IFSA-Butler. I am excited for the upcoming experiences in Peru and how the immersive experience of a student will be different from that of a volunteer.

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