Kara VanderKamp: Hope Athletics Podcast

H-Club Hope for Humanity Award Kara VanderKamp '95 poses for a pictured with head women's soccer Leigh Sears and Associate Athletic Director Lindsey Engelsman.
H-Club Hope for Humanity Award Kara VanderKamp ’95 poses for a picture with head women’s soccer Leigh Sears and Associate Athletic Director Lindsey Engelsman.

Kara VanderKamp ‘95 carries the lessons she learned on the soccer field and at Hope College into her missionary work in Niger.

The 2024 H-Club “Hope for Humanity” Award recipient and Remember Niger Coalition CEO talked about her drive to support educational opportunities for youth in Niger (pronounced knee-jeer), the landlocked western African nation between Libya, Mali, Chad and Nigeria. 

“I think one of the things I really love about soccer is it truly is a team sport that everybody has to play at their best in order to be successful and to win as a team,” VanderKamp said. “You have to sacrifice for the team. As far as leadership is concerned, I think really trying to find the strengths of every person on the team and then drawing that out of them, I find that I use that all the time in the work that I’m doing now. I’m just trying to find the right people with the right skill set, then encouraging one another, being positive, and challenging each other as well to bring out the best.”

VanderKamp’s interview kicks off the fourth season of the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast this summer.

The Orange and Blue Podcast features interviews with Hope student-athletes, coaches, staff and alumni. They share their stories of academic success, competitive excellence and transformational experiences at Hope.

Hope for Humanity Award Recipient

Microphone on a stand.

VanderKamp received the Hope for Humanity Award in April on campus. The award is presented to Hope College alumni athletes who have demonstrated Christian commitment and service to others in their careers after Hope. It was first awarded in 1990 and is presented by the college’s H-Club, which consists of Hope alumni who were athletic letterwinners and other honorary letter winners.

VanderKamp graduated from Hope with a degree in political science and an elementary teaching certificate. A midfielder on the women’s soccer team, she served as co-captain during her senior year, was named to the All-MIAA First Team in 1993 and 1994, became the first Hope women’s soccer player to gain all-region honors and ended her career as Hope’s all-time leader in assists.

The Remember Niger Coalition, under VanderKamp’s leadership, partners with 18 schools and serves over 5,400 students. Each year, more than 400 students graduate from primary school and matriculate to middle school. Remember Niger partner schools have a 90% pass rate on the national exam. 

During the past 15 years, 80 classrooms have been constructed in 13 communities, four solar-powered wells have been built, thousands of children have received school meals.  In addition, 115 teachers receive training annually, and 400 boys and girls in primary school and 98 girls in middle and high school who would not otherwise be able to afford the cost of going to school receive financial assistance from sponsors. 

Expanding Education in Niger

Kara VanderKamp kicks a soccer ball past a defender at Buys Athletics Field.
Kara VanderKamp kicks a soccer ball past a defender at Buys Athletics Field.

As CEO of Remember Niger Coalition, VanderKamp leads the initiative to spread the word about the organization and its mission, raise funds and support, and implement, monitor and evaluate projects in Niger. She is actively engaged in leading the staff and serving on the board of directors. 

VanderKamp travels around the United States as a public speaker in churches, rotary clubs, schools and businesses. She regularly travels across Niger to visit each school partner and work closely with each one to ensure that the schools have what they need and students are receiving a quality education. She oversees annual teacher trainings in Niger, and she and her team evaluate and monitor the health and wellness of the students, making sure that students receive school meals and extra healthcare in emergency situations.”

VanderKamp has served as the CEO of the Remember Niger Coalition for the past 15 years.

“What became apparent to me pretty quickly was that they had everything that they needed. They had the, they had the vision. They had a pretty concrete plan. They knew what they were doing. They knew how to start schools in their community in their country. What they lacked were partners,” VanderKamp said. “I thought I could be more useful going back to the United States and helping them find more partners. That’s how Remember Niger started.”

Read a transcript of the interview.

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