By Alexandra Sirois
This past fall, Karina Zavala, a soccer coach from St John’s, Newfoundland, took to the pitch to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). By hosting a soccer tournament at her local athletic club, Karina brought her community together and in doing so developed a better understanding of the difference she was making at both home and abroad.
Karina’s first experience raising funds for MSF was in 2015 as a participant in Walk Without Borders, a month long challenge to raise funds for and walk in solidarity with MSF patients around the world. “I got an email from MSF about the walk challenge, and being the sportive person I am, I decided to take the challenge and set my goal for running a distance of 250 kilometres in one month,” recalls Karina. This ambitious goal proved to be a difficult one to reach however, and in the process Karina ended up damaging her Achilles tendon.
This year, still wanting to support MSF, Karina came up with a new fundraising idea. “I had to come up with a new way to raise money that did not involve running or walking too many kilometres,” she says. “Since I coach and play soccer, I decided to hold a six-on-six soccer tournament for both women and men. I asked the Feildians Club, where I work, if I could use their grounds to hold the tournaments on a weekend, and they agreed and gave it to me free of charge.”
The women’s tournament was held first, and despite stormy weather, five teams showed up to play. “We were totally drenched but we continued to play until the field was impossible to run in,” said Karina. “It was great to see all the women showing their support that day.”
Finding personal connections to MSF's work
Taking place at the same time as Hurricane Matthew, a category five hurricane that caused extensive damage particularly in Haiti this past October, Karina’s fundraiser resonated with many in her community. “Newfoundland is an island, and in the last years we’ve had multiple hurricanes our way. Because of this I was able to get a lot more support as it reminded people that disaster can also happen closer to home.”
The men’s tournament was held the following week, and it was during this time that Karina encountered a player who reminded her of the impact she was making abroad. After the tournament, a player on the Feildians Intermediate Team approached Karina holding a Syrian flag. Being from Aleppo, he came to thank Karina for her efforts. “He told me that fortunately for his family they have all fled, but there are many still left behind. He also said that MSF is present back in Syria, and that he is very grateful for all the work MSF does there,” she says. “At that moment I got confirmation of how important this fundraiser was to me and how it was making a difference.”
With the help of the participating teams, who each raised $200, Karina’s fundraiser brought in an impressive $2,500. “Sometimes there is a calling in everyone to help out, to reach out, even though you might not know exactly when or how to help,” she says. “Since I started fundraising for MSF, I realized that you don’t need a lot of money or a lot of resources to help — or, most importantly, to give back a little!”