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Refugee girls building confidence through volleyball

SOUTH SALT LAKE — At the International Charter School in South Salt Lake, you’ll find a group of kids playing volleyball on any given day. The sport gives these kids the opportunity to be engaged and active.

“You can see them instructing the boys how to pass, set, how to hit. It’s great to see how they’re confident in their own abilities, but they’re confident in instructing others,” International Charter School teacher Chelsea Diem says.

Yes, the boys play too — at least the girls let them. But the refugee volleyball program is for girls.

“Volleyball felt like a safe space where they could pay and not be judged or watched,” Diem says. “So we created that to be the main sport for girls in this area.”

It’s open to any girl who wants to play; there are no tryouts.

Mariam Ibrahim used to play in her native Sudan, but she says she wasn’t that good then.

“People say you have to just try, you have to do it,” she says.

Now, Mariam is one of the team’s best players. A lot of that is hard work, and the girl’s encourage one another.

“I began communicating more with other peers, supporting each other, encouraging each other always. We never laugh at each other, we always help each other out,” says Prodige Kunda, another player.

The program is run through the Refugee Services office, not the school district. It depends on donations and volunteers. That means girls can’t play without the help of people like volunteer coach Rachel Keeney.

Keeney wanted to be a mentor as much as a coach.

“I thought this is perfect! I want to do this!” say says. “I feel drawn to this. I feel like my hours here mean more.”

More coaches are needed, and so are nets, volleyballs, hijabs for the girls to play in.

Thanks to America First, they’ve got $500 to help these girls live a life out of the shadows and feel confident in their new country.

“It’s really nice for them to have that chance, I think, to have that spotlight to shine,” Diem says. “To be the center, the spotlight, the focus.”

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