Zoe Isaacs, 16, of Sharon, Vt., a junior at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, is spearheading the development of a youth program in Rwanda that is working to provide orphans and other impoverished children with education; HIV/AIDS testing; and soccer equipment, coaches and facilities. While visiting her brother, an aid worker in Rwanda, Zoe saw how the simple gift of a soccer ball could bring joy and passion to desperate youth. "Despite overwhelming sadness and devastation, I saw hope in the easy smiles of countless orphans," said Zoe. "There existed possibility, even among shacks and shanties riddled with disease and starvation."
Soon after, Zoe enlisted the help of a youth-run nonprofit organization in Vermont, which she has worked with for three years, to raise money to help build a Rwandan youth program around the sport of soccer. She also forged a partnership with an international nonprofit working in Rwanda. Zoe's group has hired a program coordinator, purchased soccer jerseys, and raised funds to renovate a soccer stadium. As thousands of young Rwandans are drawn from miles around by the attraction of soccer games, they also will be given educational opportunities and HIV testing. In addition to making trips to Rwanda and supervising the project, Zoe has overseen the raising of $7,500 in funds for the program, and devotes much of her time to accounting, public relations and community outreach activities. "As citizens of the Western world, we have the resources to help," she said. "We cannot afford to sit by and watch as problems of poverty and disease escalate."