It’s April 2010, barely three months after the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti to her core. My brother Louis and I are mulling over the upcoming summer. We’re thinking about the hundreds of kids who have been displaced from their homes and are just now returning to school, and there were going to be plenty of them—kids who would lose the entire school year because their schools had been ravaged by the earthquake and had either been completely destroyed or were too dangerous to use. Several kids were returning to Bainet and Zorangé that year because they no longer had a safe place to call home in Port-au-Prince.
There were so many countries that rushed to Haiti’s aid in the aftermath of the earthquake. At the time, we counted about 28 countries whose flags were flying over Haiti. It was at this time that my brother shared with me an idea to hold a soccer tournament in the city of Bainet. Bainet seemed like the obvious choice given that it was going to be the future home of Hope for Haiti Foundation (HFHF). This soccer tournament, which we had already named “Haiti Rebirth Soccer Tournament” or “Tournoi de Renaissance,” would serve two purposes: 1) It would provide the hundreds of kids who returned to Bainet and its surrounding districts a brief moment of fun and excitement, an activity that would take their minds off the daily struggles they face; 2) It would provide HFHF an opportunity to start establishing roots in Bainet by fostering relationships, partnering with businesses in the city, and interacting with the residents and local government.
So, Tournoi de Renaissance was born. The first weekend of August 2010, we kicked off the soccer tournament with eight teams representing four different districts including our own school, Unifiee, from Zorangé. The people of Bainet were treated to a spectacular opening ceremony on a Friday morning. The eight teams participated in a parade through Bainet Boulevard with large groups of people dancing and reveling alongside. There was a festive atmosphere all around. It could have almost been mistaken for a Haitian carnival! The teams carried the 28 flags of all the countries that had come to help Haiti after the earthquake, to show how much we appreciate their support. The city came to a standstill for a brief moment to witness this first of its kind sporting event.
To say that the inaugural season was a success would be a huge understatement. With an audience of more than 1000 people attending the final game, that weekend was a testament to the fact that sports, especially soccer, truly transcend everything. People from all walks of life, regardless of social and economic status, descended on the soccer field to watch the teams compete and to cheer the winning team from the City of Bainet—Ecole Wesleyenne de Bainet. Several local businesses from Bainet sponsored the tournament by providing refreshments and lodging to the players.
Armed with some valuable lessons from their first organizing experience, our team was able to successfully pull off the second annual Tournoi de Renaissance during the first weekend of August 2011. This time around, we were able to secure a sponsorship from the mobile phone company, Digicel. As the buzz about the tournament spread, the second year saw an even larger turnout, with people traveling from as far as Cotes-de-fer and Jacmel.
The excitement and enthusiasm in the community was almost palpable. We even had a team that traveled about 80 miles to participate in the tournament.
This year (August 2012) marked the third anniversary of Tournoi de Renaissance. Although a tropical storm threatened the last day of the tournament (Sunday, August 6) with torrential rains flooding the soccer field, we were able to quickly and efficiently move the game to another field less than a quarter mile away in the community of Sous Fort. Once again, the local community came together selflessly and threw their support behind this effort to get the last three games of the tournament underway, by cleaning the soccer field and getting it ready for play. Last year’s runners up, a team from a community called Lebrun, were crowned the 2012 champions.
We strongly believe that to positively impact a community, we have to find ways to connect with its people. Soccer, being Haiti’s national sport, proved to be the perfect vehicle to garner the community’s support. We were confident that their participation and enthusiasm would eventually lead them to take ownership of this event. What started off as a simple social activity to provide some respite to a community torn apart by the earthquake has quickly turned into one of the most anticipated events of the year. Today, the locals and the players eagerly look forward to this summer sporting spectacle. We will continue to organize it every year in the middle of the summer and eventually we hope to have a team from the United States participating. We are currently in dialogue with a potential team from the West Coast (Oregon), and if all goes well, we will have a team from America in 2013. We believe that sports are an integral part of the education system, and by providing these kids an opportunity to play organized soccer, we hope to foster the qualities of team work and discipline in other areas of their lives as well.
If and when we are able to secure some national and international sponsors, we plan to start a team that trains and competes at the national league. Currently, the city of Bainet has no representation in the national league.
The fact remains that, while there is plenty of talent available, the means to assemble and manage a professional soccer team is lacking.
We would not be able to continue organizing this tournament without some key sponsors from the state side. One of our partners, Erin Hayes, was solely instrumental in bringing us a valuable sponsor more than five years ago, to provide us with soccer gear to outfit the teams. We have also partnered with Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and Triangle Area Soccer League (TASL) in North Carolina in the past in securing uniforms and balls to take to Haiti. Other partners like Eurosport with their pass back program have helped us tremendously.
How you can help? We are limited in the amount of luggage we can take with us to Haiti. Starting next year, we are looking to purchase soccer balls, shoes and uniforms in Haiti to provide for the teams. To this end, monetary donations would help serve us better than the gear itself. However, if gear is all you have to give and they’re almost new and in good condition, we will gladly accept that as well.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to your continued partnership in the years to come!
Jean Elade Eloi