EVERETT — Hannah Merisko may not speak their language, but she found common ground with girls in Cambodia thanks to soccer.
Merisko, 18, was part of a team from Northshore Christian Academy last summer sponsoring a girls soccer camp in Cambodia.
Merisko is a Northshore alumna who just graduated from Kamiak High School. Northshore’s physical education teacher, Kari Carter and her husband, Eddie, organize mission trips for students from lo
They work with the soccer nonprofit SALT Academy in Battambang, Cambodia. The organization helps girls from orphanages, and survivors of human trafficking, to build life skills through soccer.
The Carters lived in Cambodia for three months as part of Youth With a Mission ministry. A friend of theirs started SALT Academy and asked them to help train girls.
Girls in Cambodia face an uphill battle just to get the same chance as boys, Eddie Carter said. Many never learn that success is an option.
When Cambodians saw one of the Carters’ daughters play soccer, they couldn’t believe a girl could play that well.
“They were amazed that a girl could kick a ball as far and as high as the boys do,” he said.
The Carters started to bring American teams to Cambodia to show local girls what they can do. Their church, Mill Creek Foursquare, as well as Northshore Christian Academy and local youth soccer clubs, have helped with funding and equipment.
Merisko is planning to go again this year. Her 16-year-old brother, Elijah, will go, too.
Cambodia is still recovering from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Merisko knew little of its history before her trip. She tagged along because she wanted to be involved in a mission.
Cambodia was like a different world, Merisko said. The first wave of culture shock came when children began to cling to her, begging for money. It was hot, crowded and hectic. She didn’t speak the local language. But when she got to meet the girls in the soccer camp, that was no problem.
“We couldn’t really talk to them, but we were always laughing together because that’s just universal,” she said.
Merisko and her team taught the girls soccer moves and played games.
Soccer was what they had in common.
The visitors got to know the culture and saw the ancient temple of Angkor Wat. Though Merisko knew little about what had happened in Cambodia, she could feel the effects of the atrocities that shook the country decades ago.
Her experience on the mission trip helped Merisko realize the blessings in her life in the United States. She wants to return to Cambodia all the same.
“Leaving those girls was the hardest thing I’d ever done,” she said. “I’m so blessed that I can go back and meet more girls and bond with them.”
Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get involved with the soccer camp, contact Eddie Carter at email@example.com or 425-941-2869. To learn more about the SALT Academy, go to www.saltacademy.net.