Former Buckeye Jillian McVicker recently spent time during the holiday season paying it forward halfway around the world. The Metuchen, N.J., native traveled to Rwanda Nov. 28-Dec. 11 as part of a service trip with Women’s Professional Soccer League side Cleveland Ambassadors.
A team comprised of professional players from around the United States visited several parts of Rwanda, spending the majority of their time in Kigali and Gisenyi, bringing soccer equipment to local children. The team also ran soccer clinics for the children in addition to bringing clean water, cleats, balls, goals, clothes and goalkeeper gloves.
“The most memorable experience was being around the children,” McVicker, who concluded her four-year playing career for the Buckeyes in 2016, said. “In 1994, the Rwandan genocide left the country broken. In the present day, it is important to know that although this country has suffered a lot, it still has so much faith, love and hope for the future. To see the smiles on the kids’ faces, despite their circumstance, was absolutely life-changing. They were so grateful and happy, and their positive energy radiated off of them onto me. My heart felt so full. The Rwandan people impacted my life in so many ways I cannot explain. I loved immersing myself in their culture and learning their way of life.”
The team also had the opportunity to play the Rwandan national team twice, winning by scores of 1-0 and 3-0. It marked the first time the Rwandan national team held a camp for the women’s side and the first time a women’s team from the United States played in Rwanda.
“This was such a huge honor for us to even be there,” McVicker said. “Since the team performed well against us, we’re all hoping the Rwandan Football Association can provide more funding for the sport among women in their country.”
The trip truly had a lasting impact on McVicker, who not only enjoyed giving back to the Rwandan community, but enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other players from the United States.
“I had such a great time building new friendships with the other players on the trip,” McVicker said. “We all experienced something together that not many people have the opportunity to do. Rwanda will always have a special place in my heart and I hope that I gave back one-tenth of what the Rwandan people gave to me. I am so fortunate and humbled by this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” — Nelson Mandela