Strong Women. Better World.

Pioneering Leadership through Sports in Latin America with Maira Coll & Mercedes Navarette

April 11, 2021 University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace & Society in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division Season 1 Episode 6
Strong Women. Better World.
Pioneering Leadership through Sports in Latin America with Maira Coll & Mercedes Navarette
Show Notes Transcript

Travel to Latin America with this episode of the Strong Women. Better World podcast as Bolivia’s Maira Coll (General Manager, Bolivian Olympic Committee; former elite volleyball player) and El Salvador’s Mercedes Navarette (Communications Coordinator, Glasswing International) dissect how they’re empowering women and girls to become leaders through sports. 

Carole (0:05): Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World Podcast Series. A global storytelling project created by strong women using the power of sport, education, and social innovation to create a better world. Hello, hello. I am your host and ref, Carole Ponchon from Lyon, France. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the ring as two fearless women spar about their trailblazing journeys in sport. In the right corner from Bolivia is general manager for the Bolivian Olympic committee, Maira Coll. As one of the few positive role models for women’s sport in Bolivia, Maira is driven by a willl to improve women's representation in leadership and executive positions nationwide. Will the smash skills acquired during her career as a national team volleyball player be her main asset in the ring? We will soon find out. 

Maira (0:59): Hi, my name is Maira Coll. I'm from Bolivia and I'm really, really glad to be here and I will share what I'm doing here to empower women in my country. 

Carole (1:09): Thanks, Maira. And in the left corner is a trailblazer from El Salvador. Mercedes Elizabeth Navarrete. Mercedes is the communication coordinator for Glasswing International, a nonprofit organization that delivers health, education, immigration, and community development programs for underserved children in her country. Mercedes has learned firsthand how sport helps build confidence, self-esteem and self-worth through her own experiences growing up as a girl scout. Now, Mercedes wants to impart these lessons to other girls in El Salvador. And today brings her resilience and determination fighting for something bigger than herself. 

Mercedes (1:53): Hola for the Spanish speakers and hello for everyone. I'm really happy to be here. 

Carole (1:58): Ladies, I am so impatient. And I cannot wait to learn about your pioneering work and how you're standing on the shoulders of other Title IX Titans. The ring is yours. So, off we go for round one.

Maira (2:14): Mercy, we both have a lot in common we're Latinas, and I'm really, really glad to be here. And I will show to the people more about you. If you were an animal, what will you like to be? 

Mercedes (2:28): I will like to be a dolphin, maybe because I really love water, the ocean, and maybe because I think there, I don't know, there are some animals that really like to show love to the people who they care.

Maira (2:45): Thank you, Mercy. You are really, really, uh, a dolphin because you are so, so sweet and you, you show your, your, your way to be sweet. If you can only eat one food for the rest of your life, what will it be? 

Mercedes (3:01): I know you know this answer and of course it’s going to be pupusas. Pupusas is the national food for El Salvador and now my God, I love pupusas so for sure pupusas is going to be the only food I want to know my whole life. 

Maira (3:18): Cool, Mercy, we both are facing a lot of troubles in our country, a lot of violence against women. So we are here to show about us and try to, to change our realities here in our countries. 

Mercedes (3:32): Thank you. You know, I always answer this question with two parts. The first part that I love to say is a positive part of El Salvador. El Salvador is such a beautiful country. There's no other country where I would rather to be born. We have a beautiful landscape, Salvadorian people are really hard workers, and the most important thing for me is that we really want to make everything to have a better country. But on the other hand, like I always say, is like in El Salvador we have a tale of two countries. On one hand, we have the pretty part of El Salvador, and on the other hand, sadly, we are also one of the most dangerous country in all the world. The gangs have a lot of power and they have many control here and that's something really, really sad. So many communities face a lot of violence. So many girls also live in a lot of violence. Children here in El Salvador don't have a safe space where they can play or where they can be children. And women also have many challenge for the simple thing of being a woman. I have to work for them to have a better space. 

Maira (4:45): That was inspiring, Mercy. We know about your, your job in, in El Salvador to give to, to the, the children opportunity to, to practice sport. Um, given what we have under it since we met in 2019, I'm curious to hear how the culture or environment for women in the sports non-profits has changed over the past few months and years. Is that easier or more difficult to accomplish your goals as a result? 

Mercedes (5:17): Covid had came to make everything worse. Due to lockdown, children and women need to stay at their home, but sometimes that's not the safest place where they can be because many women and children live or experience a lot of domestic violence. So now being 24/7 at home is like a nightmare for someone of them. Obviously we have more challenge now than ever. We need to be closer than ever to be with them. We are focused on give them a rapid response on food, mental health, and support them with any help they could need. During the lockdown, we focus our efforts on provide virtual class of aerobics or any entertainment to girls and to women. After lock down schools are still closed, but at least childrens can be out for four minutes or during a short time right now. We now have a on-site class at Parque Cuscatlan and women are enjoying, I know the value of these and I'm enjoying now these classes more than ever. So that's, that's what I'm doing here. 

Maira (6:24): Here in Bolivia where we're having almost the same reality. Okay. One final question to you, sis. I remember our chats about it when we met in the US. Our two countries are facing some similar challenge, including the fact that girls and the women are rarely given the opportunities to participate in the sport. You grew up in the girl scout movement. Can you tell us a story about a moment in the scouts that helped shape your life?

Mercedes (6:59): I'm going to cry right now because the scout movement is like the best experience I could ever have in my life. It was the best school where I learned a lot of things. Nothing is more important to me, eh, than the scout movement in my life. Because thanks to this movement, I am the person who I am now. So if I have to choose one moment, I'm going to choose the experience of being a scout leader. I have the opportunity to guide youth from 17 to 21 years old. The experience to be with them, to guide them, to hear them and to feel whatever they are feeling in the moment and to know when they are sad, eh, to be with them when they are crying and also to support them when they want to dream. And I always say to these kids, “Hey, you can be whatever you want in this world. You need to be really responsible with your thing and plan everything.” In the scout movement, I learned how to create a better world. And how to be prepared to help anyone no matter the circumstance. So that's the most important thing for me. 

Carole (8:15): And that's end of round one. This is the ref speaking, actually before moving to round two, I have a question for you, Mercy. Can you, describe how your favorite food tastes and looks because I have, and I have no idea how to say again, the name. So you will have to tell it again. 

Mercedes (8:32): Pupusas is the best food in the whole world. It’s like a corn tortilla, it’s like a circle and you know, like a taco, but in the middle you have a lot of like food. The traditional one is with only beans, cheese, and pork. You eat that with a salad and with a sauce, and it's delicious. 

Carole (8:56): You’re speaking to the heart of a French woman that definitely food is culture, and I, I hear you and I feel you. Let's move to round two with Mercy interviewing Maira. 

Mercedes (9:08): Awesome. So Maira I'm so happy it’s my turn and I cannot wait to show your work in our boxing ring, but first let me return the favor and let's warm up our audience with two questions to uncover your personality. So let's see. What will the title of your memoir be? 

Maira (9:28): I don't know. I think something like, “She was happy and she found her objectives in the life, that's why she's staying in peace” or something like that. 

Mercedes (9:42): You know, if you asked me, I think your memoir will say “Every day, she was trying to find her best self.”

Maira (9:51): Oh my God. And then you have to put, hashtag “find your best self.”

Mercedes (9:57): One more question. Will you rather reserve one decision you make every day or be able to stop for one or every day?

Maira (10:06): I don't feel like, like I read the deeper, eh, rebirth in, in my decisions, you know, I'm trying to, to do the right things. You know, I'm trying to find my best self every day.

Mercedes (10:25): Maybe stop the time for one hour or so? 

Maira (10:31): No, no, no, I'm not sure. I'm not sure it's not, not so clear my answer, you know. 

Mercedes (10:37): Thanks for inspiring. It says a lot about you, you know, sis, eh, we share our awareness of the insecurities women and girls face in our communities and countries. In fact, El Salvador and Bolivia violence against women is endemic. We are sadly among the countries with the highest percentage of femicide and rapes, and most of them are not even reported. Can you tell us, how are you using your platform as a national sport champion to empower girls of Bolivia, to be as strong and defend themselves for perpetrators of violence. 

Maira (11:10): I will give you a preview. I'm creating my own NGO to try to change that situation in my country. Every four minutes, a girl is abused here in my country, and that situation increasing during the pandemic, in the lockdown. So I'm doing my work, but it’s low, you know, because I have to make some, some papers I have to lot to, to do a lot of things. I'm feeling anxious because I really need to do something to change that reality. And why sports? You know, because I think sport is the best school ever. I think if you teach to little girls values, with the sports of course, and you teach leadership, you will change that reality we are living here in Bolivia. Our culture in Bolivia, it's really sexist. And if you teach to the guys to be a real, real good boys, in the future we can maybe see some results about, about that words. I'm doing my job, but I feel in that pandemic, it was, like, terrible. And as an ex-volleyball player my role, it's sometimes it sends some messages. I create a Zoom group with women leaders here in Sucre to try to do something different, like talking about what women are living every day in the pandemic, in the work, in the house. And it's, it's really, really interesting to share that experiences. Because my experience can help another person and that, and those experiences maybe helped me. That's all. I was using my own platform to help others. 

Mercedes (13:11): That’s awesome. Your own NGO and your own platform. I'm pretty sure that you are going to save many girls and also boys' lives through sports. So congratulations for all the work you are doing during this pandemic. Also Maira let me tell all the people that are hearing us. You are a beach volleyball champion but, wait for it, Bolivia is a land-lock country. You don’t have any beach in your country. Can you tell us, where did you find a beach to become a world champion athlete? What's a story you can share with us about playing Volleyball for your country and why you want other girls to follow their dreams in a sport. Even if it's not an easy or popular thing to do. 

Maira (13:55): Thank you, Mercy. It's a question, it made me emotional because yeah, it's true in my country we don't have any beach, you know? But we have sand, it's river sand, it's like different, but it's a way to show people, if you don't have the conditions, you can do it in the same way. You can be a life champ if you want. It was really hard because it was a new sport here in my country and we don't have beach, we didn't have courts. The first court was like not official and we, we start to play like diversion or just joking. It's okay. It's just volleyball in sand, so it's the same thing. And then, uh, we were really interested about that, the sport with my, with my partner, her name is Amalia. And then we start to traveling in South America and we was really good. That's why we, we was South American champions and Bolivian champions. So it was like a life lesson for me. So if you want to do something, just do it. Don't think about your conditions, you don't have this, you have this, you don't, you don't have to see that. You just try to do your best. Try to make a role model for others. Try to teach them if you can do, they can do too. 

Mercedes (15:26): Oh my God. I love your message. Thank you for sharing with us. And last, but not least, I picture you as a role model for many, me included. I bet part of your current job is handling the answers and things around the Tokyo Olympics and trying to coordinate with various stakeholders from sponsors, to federations, coaches and athletes in particular. I am curious if you had one piece of advice to share with us about how to deal with the current uncertainty in professional, but also personal life. 

Maira (15:58): It's a really, really, really cool question. Um, I’m sports director now in the, um, in the Bolivarian games committee. It's not Bolivian Olympic committee and we're doing something like Olympics, but with seven countries and it's a young game and it's really interesting because that games has to be the last year, but at the pandemic, we have to reschedule and reschedule and reschedule the dates. It's really interesting, the question, because we are trying to do the games. We have a new date and the games will be in November 27 until December 9. So we'll be after the Olympics. We are really curious about how Tokyo with a lot, a lot of money make the Olympics a success event. I think one important thing, is the health of people. The sport, it's it's health too, the sport is the location and the sport is everything in life, but maybe the health is like barrier for sports right now. It's really, really, really hard to organize every event, sport event in the world. So I think there is a lot of people with a lot of expertise working in Tokyo to make that event the best. But, you have to consider a lot, a lot of topics in the places, the food, the transportation. Has to think about communication because the journalists don't have to stay so near to the players. And I think it's, it will be, will be really, really, really hard, but maybe the message or the advice will be, try to stay healthy, try to, to think about, about others, not only you, not only the organization, not only the athletes. We have to think about the health of everybody. 

Carole (18:02): And that’s end of round two, ref speaking from the corner of the ring. Maira, I have a question for you because you have said so much during this round. I'm still, almost knocked down, even if I'm the ref, but you mentioned that you are creating an NGO and you have been playing with many words, Mercy, as well as mentioning your own hashtag, like personal hashtag. So I'm curious, what will be the name of your NGO? If you can reveal it now or are you expecting our audience to share some ideas with you? 

Maira (18:36): I can't. I really can't because we like deserve the, the name, but it's not that not sure, but it's something like women with, with women, the elements, women, and power. I can’t reveal that now, but we'll be like really different than the others.

Carole (18:56): Wow. What a teaser. We gonna get back to you when it's released. Okay. 

Maira (19:02): I will share with you all, of course. 

Carole (19:04): Yeah. We will be following it. Let's move now to round three. 

Mercedes (19:09): Okay. I know we are running out of time, but let's have a lightning round before our final buzzer sands. Maira what’s your definition of empowerment?

Maira (19:20): So empowerment for me is knowledge. It's education, it's leadership. It's a lot of elements, eh, who make you a better person. And it's rare to hear that, but you take the power of someone and give it to other, that's why the power works. And I think the women in the story roles are living a reality with less power than the men. So I think it's the most important thing at this moment. It's not only for me, it's not only for you. We are working in the same thing, but I think it's the best for the world. That's why that podcast is called now Empower Women Better World. And Mercy, I will ask you the same question. What is empowerment for you?

Mercedes (20:13): Maybe for me it's to guide everyone to be whatever they want to be. I don't know if vision is the correct word, but to help them to be the better version they want to be of themselves. 

Carole (20:29): Ref speaking here, I could not help, but end this friendly fight, with a sincere thank you to our audience. And guess what? The winner of today's episode is, communities around the globe who are benefiting from greater equality and inclusivity. Thank you ladies for your priceless time and energy. You're the stars here and today, so I leave you with the final words. 

Mercedes (20:53): It was wonderful to share this episode with you, Maira, thank you for stepping into the ring and helping us learn more about your goal to advance gender equality within the Olympic movement in Bolivia. And thanks to our audience for tuning into this week's episode, we hope you learn something new about the empowerment of women and girls through sport in El Salvador and Bolivia, and most important that you leave feeling inspired to make a difference in your own community. Social change is a team sport, and we are counting on you to join us as we are celebrate the global impact of Title IX. Here are some easy ways to get in on the actions.

Maira (21:35): Click the “like” button and subscribe to our channel and share this podcast with your family, friends and colleagues. Leave your questions and comments on social media. And remember you can listen to more episodes of the Strong Women, Better World podcast series on your favorite podcasting platform.