Soccer takes Mercer Islander to Africa

Islander Lynne Tempest, seated sixth from left, and other volunteers and residents of Lesotho take a break on a hike. - Contributed Photo
Islander Lynne Tempest, seated sixth from left, and other volunteers and residents of Lesotho take a break on a hike.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Islander Lynne Tempest is working in South Africa for Kick4Life, a nonprofit working to fight AIDS with education and community-building centered around soccer.

Tempest, a 2005 graduate of Mercer Island High School, was an honor student, leader and athlete in soccer and track. Now she works as a researcher and a mentor/educator stationed at a soccer field at 5,200 feet above sea level in Lesotho, some 800 km from Port Elizabeth at the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Via email, we asked her about her experiences and what led her to Africa.

Tempest: I grew up on Mercer Island and graduated from MIHS in 2005. I was a BRIDGES leader and was involved with the Honor Society. I started on the varsity soccer team for three years as an outside defender and competed in middle distance on the varsity track and field team for four years, culminating in a third-place finish in the 800 meters at the state meet, my senior year. Along my way, I met friends I keep to this day, bonded with teachers, and was given wonderful opportunities academically.

However, after graduating from MIHS, I wanted to explore another part of the country. So I went off to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and graduated with a degree in neuroscience. Bowdoin was an amazing experience in all aspects: personal, academic, athletic. I made friends for life and learned how to work hard, and I mean really work hard.

Then there’s Maine itself — rugged, quaint, full of tough but friendly people, and, of course, fresh lobster.

I learned that I had to leave Mercer Island to fully understand its close-knit and unique culture.

Sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my best memories of growing up include the smell of freshly cut green grass, the taste of orange slices and the act of lacing up my soccer shoes. I started playing when I was about 9 years old and never looked back. I played through high school, during which my team won a KingCo title, made it to the state finals, and even won the state academic award.

I continued to play in college, starting as a freshman defender at Bowdoin.

Since graduating from Bowdoin, I pursued neuroscience by working in a lab at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute as a research technician and was able to help publish three research papers in my field. While this was a great experience, it made me realize that I needed more clinical hands-on work to feel fulfilled.

After college I also began coaching MIHS cross country and track and field as an assistant with the wonderful Erica Hill, Toni Scaringi and Lezely Smith, among others.

Ultimately, though, I was ready to try something new and hopefully more aligned to my career interests.

What led you to get involved in Grassroot Soccer and Kick4life?

I am considering pursuing a clinical career. I love the idea of combining a clinical degree with a degree in public health. Yet, I have no experience in public health. That is why I went in search of an opportunity like Grassroot Soccer. Grassroot Soccer and its partner organization, Kick4Life, uses the world’s sport for public health education.

It’s an incredibly appealing idea to use soccer for something more than the sport itself. When you think about the type of relationships sports foster between teammates and with coaches, there is incredible potential to tap into to pursue meaningful development for all people involved.

I also really wanted an adventure abroad, ideally to live in a place and fully experience it in a way you cannot do during a quick, few weeks trip.

What are the needs of the people you serve?

I work to serve the people of Lesotho. Our focus is on youth ages 10-24, but we hope any knowledge or changes in behavior and attitudes might spread to the community at large.

Kick4Life also has programs aimed at adults — for example, Women4Women, which gives women a place to meet and address their challenges in Lesotho.

The ultimate goal revolves around causing behavioral changes towards less risky behaviors that help avoid contracting or spreading HIV/AIDS.

These people need life skills and knowledge that will both directly and indirectly allow them to fight HIV/AIDS, and empower them to succeed in whatever endeavors they undertake.

What is the best part of your experience in Africa?

The best part is the spirit of the people. There is an unhindered friendliness that I haven’t found elsewhere — constant greetings, hand-shaking, smiling. There’s also a connectedness of mind to body — people just want to move and dance and express themselves. It’s wonderful.

Finally, what did you bring with you to Africa?

A strong sense of self and empowerment. I feel empowered to instill change and even possibly be a role model, a quality I feel has come from the opportunities given to me throughout my time on Mercer Island, among other places.

I also brought: Good Earth tea, Starbucks VIA, photos of family and friends, my 2010 MIXC T-shirt, 100+ SPF sunscreen, sunglasses and hats, my Seattle Sounders FC scarf and soccer shoes.

How to help

Grassroot Soccer pays for housing and work-related expenses, but otherwise Tempest’s internship is entirely unfunded. Her estimated expenses (including airfare) for the year are $10,000.

Individuals can make a tax-deductible donation to Grassroot Soccer or Kick4Life directly (via or, respectively).

Donations can also be made to defer Tempest’s expenses at or by check, payable to Grassroot Soccer, with “Lynne Tempest” in the memo line, sent to: Grassroot Soccer, P.O. Box 712, Norwich, VT 05055.

Below, players gather at the soccer field near where Tempest works with Kick4Life, a nonprofit working to stop the spread of AIDS.


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