Not only the majority of soccer fans, coaches, and players, but most Americans would probably agree that having the opportunity to attend the recent Women’s World Cup championship match would have been the highlight of their summer.
Joined by her mother, Kinda, Upper Iowa University defender Savannah Schinto was among those 53,341 screaming fans at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, Canada, on July 5. But a trip to Brazil a month earlier as part of Coaches Across Continents provided Savannah a lesson in putting life’s experiences in perspective.
“The amount of excitement and energy that circulated throughout the stadium for Team USA was overwhelming,” admitted Schinto, “But I know there are soccer fans and other people in Brazil and throughout the world that aren’t able to enjoy the same opportunities that I have.”
A redshirt junior on the UIU women’s soccer team, Schinto was first introduced to Coaches Across Continents by her head coach, Brian Diaz.
Partnering with local organizations, the Coaches Across Continents mission is to use sport as a vehicle to create self-directed learners who can identify, address and solve problems specific to their communities. Its curriculum empowers people to question harmful traditional, cultural, and religious practices; choose their own futures; and create change. In 2014, the organization worked in 26 countries with 74 community partners to educate over 3,150 coaches and reports it had a positive impact on an estimated 280,400 children.
“The organization lays a foundation for civic growth and change in the communities in which it works. At the same time, the volunteers are educated in how to continue providing similar civic duties in their own communities upon returning home,” explained Diaz.
“What interested me the most in the program was the opportunity to work with children globally and better their lives through the sport of soccer,” admitted Schinto, who is majoring in physical education, health, and coaching at UIU.
After being accepted into the Coaches Across Continents program, the Spring Grove, Ill., native was assigned two weeks in Brazil from May 30-June 14, including a week in the nation’s capital of Brasilia and an additional week in Rio.
Upon her arrival in Brazil, Schinto quickly discovered not only the incredible passion for “futbol” in the South American country; but even more so, the amount of diversity in the lifestyles of its people. While coaching and playing pick-up soccer matches with participants ranging in age from 10-50, the UIU student-athlete learned the living conditions of the residents ranged from “very well-off homes to favelas (communities).”
Schinto explained favelas are groups of apartment or housing development areas run mainly by druglords. The impoverished areas are completely cut off from the Brazilian authorities and can be incredibly dangerous places to live.
“The biggest culture shock for me was the proximity between the favelas and the surrounding community. While in Rio we were within 100 yards of a favela and that is normalcy for many Brazilians,” added the 21-year-old. “Some of the bad experiences shared with me by the youth and other Brazilians included rape, drugs, and other violence; HIV and AIDS; gender inequality, and poverty.”
“I don’t believe people can even fathom the type of hardships Savannah witnessed during her experience,” said Diaz. “At the same time, UIU couldn’t have had a better student-athlete to represent the university on such a mission. Savannah will take the lessons she learned while in Brazil and apply them here as she continues to grow as a leader on the field, on campus, and most importantly, in life.”
“This was an incredible, eye-opening experience for me and it truly makes me appreciate the experiences and opportunities I have enjoyed in my life,” Schinto agreed. “I would like to take the social lessons I learned from this trip and apply them somehow to future opportunities. Positive change is a domino effect, and it takes just one person to start the chain reaction.”
Upon graduating from Upper Iowa University, Schinto hopes to start a number of positive chain reactions by one day passing on her Brazilian experience and other lessons in life to her future students and soccer players.