Anne McGuinness is a Tibetan-American who grew up in Kathmandu. When McGuinsess was younger, the only place where she could play sports was at her school. Although she was extremely interested in games, there were very little opportunities for her to play elsewhere.
Likewise when Amanda Cats-Baril, an American citizen, came to Kathmandu as a young professional, she realized that there were not many avenues open for women to do any kind of physical activities. “It was easy for me to go out with a group of men and play soccer in Kathmandu. But it was not the same for other girls who were not trained and they felt intimidated playing with a group of guys,” says Cats-Baril.
So in order to create a safe space for girls and help build a strong foundation in sports, Anne McGuinness and Amanda Cats-Baril established The WE United Project in 2014. This project aims to empower girls and women of Nepal through dynamic sports based activities.
“Sports had a great impact in our own lives and that is why we were driven to create this organization,” says McGuinness. “Also, I may not be a Nepali but Nepal is my home. I am passionate towards empowering young girls and women of Nepal,” she adds.
This project believes that sports is not only about physical benefits but it also helps girls in enhancing their leadership qualities, provides different opportunities, develops their communication skills and builds confidence. “Personally, sports gave me important life lessons. Through sports, I not only learnt how to win but also lose graciously. After losing, I had the courage to move forward and continue working towards my goal,” says Cats-Baril adding that she now wants to open avenues for Nepali women in sports and help them gain the same experience.
Every year they organize sports tournaments to create sports outlets for women. “We have observed that there is a real desire to play among Nepali girls. So we want to encourage them and provide a platform for them,” says McGuinness. Since 2014, they have hosted annual tournaments every year. Last year, there were almost 100 women participants in their Futsal tournament.
They are also extremely proud of the fact that since they started The WE United Project, there have been several Nepali women who have become nationally certified referees. This project takes the opportunity to celebrate Nepali women athletes and their achievement at every event.
“Whenever we hold any event, we make sure that we have female referees. These professional women act as role model to other younger girls and women,” says McGuinness.
One of the major difficulties that this project faces is to encourage women to participate in their tournaments. “Especially when girls are disinterested in sports, it is very difficult to make them participate,” says McGuinness adding that many Nepali girls also lack support from their families and friends.
Hence, to bridge the gap between sports and girls, this project organizes friendly games for girls every Saturday. There, they try to introduce girls to sports in a safe environment. According to McGuinness, a lot of young women have been able to learn football through these sessions and then they go on to influence their other friends. This is how they build their network. Now, they are also trying to reach out to more girls form public and private schools.
Last year they organized Mahila Premier League. It was a Futsal Tournament organized for the first time in Nepal. These tournaments comprise of state and national level players as well as girls who are new to sports. “There is a lot of energy and excitement during our events. The younger players are often in awe of experienced women sportspersons. That encourages these young participants to get better at sports,” says Cats-Baril.
This project is currently a volunteer based initiative. They rely on an amazing group of women volunteers, both local and expats who have passion for football and believe in women empowerment. They are able to cover the cost of most of their events through registration fees. However, their registration fee is very minimal as they want to cover every socio economic group.
Many local businesses support their initiative by donating experiential prizes at their tournaments. Instead of providing a cash prize to the winner they provide an experiential prize like a rafting trip or free rock climbing experience.
“Apart from providing opportunities in sports, our aim is to build a network of women athletes in Nepal. This will help them support and learn from each other,” concludes Cats-Baril.