Let's Team up with Itong Ehrke, Club Manager & Program Manager at Seiten Wechsel in Berlin Germany
Updated: Mar 30
Itong Ehrke is a Club Manager & Project Manager at Seiten Wechsel in Berlin, Germany.
JESS MCKAY: In a nutshell, what does your Seiten Wechsel do? ITONG EHRKE: Yes, Seiten Wechsel is a sports club for women, trans, lesbian, inter[sex] and girls and I am the Project Manager for Seiten Wechsel the Girls stuff [Mädchen Sport]. We do a lot of different stuff with girls. We organize events where we try to get people together from different clubs and show what possibilities [exist] in our region [and] what Girls could do. Then, we also have like camps, not [sleep over camps], but, like holiday [or summer] camps. [For example], we meet every day and then we have like a soccer camp and girls [do]… team-building stuff...and eat together. We [also] work in schools and… in the afternoon we have programs for girls… Mostly we do soccer and street dance, but sometimes we do other stuff like self-defense courses or something like that. Also, we do a lot of politics because we think that we have to be...advocates for [our team] because in the region we’re in, there are [fewer] girls doing sports than boys. We also try to have... weekly actions like soccer or board games...basketball, and table tennis. It changes based on what the girls want to do that day. So, we do a lot of different stuff. We also have a project with Chance Tranz, which means girls have like workshop days and travel to another place and [put on a performance] ... What is important about our organization is that we work with [schools that serve high-needs families]. JESS MCKAY: That’s all amazing…So what gender inequities do you see in your field? ITONG EHRKE: In our district, we have a lot of soccer. [And] there are so many more guys in the field in Germany...it’s different than the U.S. [In Germany] soccer is everywhere. Every guy-- every boy-- plays soccer. Therefore, all the places where you can play soccer are already full of boys. And so, soccer is very unequal… It’s very difficult for girls when they don’t have support from their parents to find something where they can be part of it because… we live in a big city and its crowded. [Some] parents think that for girls it is not very safe...We are almost 4 billion people in Berlin and not every girl is mobile because [their parents] do not want them to run free...Therefore, it’s much more difficult for girls [to be involved in sports]… You have to organize... much more around the sport to get the girls to go there. If you work with girls who don’t have support, or like religious families, or when girls take care of their siblings, [you will need to organize]. And... there [are] many more activities for boys on the traditional side. And Mädchen Sport Is an organization that really tries to build a structure for girls to be more active… JESS MCKAY: Yeah, I feel like in St. Louis... [there are similar concerns. So how does your organization support and empower girls? ITONG EHRKE: Our focus is to have really good people to take care of them. [We want them to] have some sort of idol, where they can see themselves in the future. We want girls to have many different role models that [are not] very stereotyped... [As such] I think the two most important things we do are: (1) advocate and (2) speak very often and open about inequities and where we see them….[We also try to stress that] you can be a part of something without being very good... It’s not like we try to be [in] competition...You don’t have to be good to join [the things we offer] JESS MCKAY: That's amazing. I feel like that's really important because...girls are usually taught to be perfect. So, that’s awesome that you have that opportunity for girls. ITONG EHRKE: Yeah... If they show a certain amount of discipline and talent and they really want to be in a competition or something, then we try to help them to get in other clubs where they focus on that because we don't want to judge girls [on] what they want to be…we want to teach them that-- yes you can do competition…[or]...just for fun, it's your choice. JESS MCKAY: I love that. So, the next question... What are some great girls’ empowerment programs that you’ve seen in Berlin? ITONG EHRKE: I would mention our programs…[In Berlin], there are many more boys in sports and its different than the US….therefore, not [many] girls are in sports...I’ve heard in the US, it’s like if you have a team for boys [then] you have to have a team for girls...You don’t have to do that in Germany...Not very long ago, schools had boys’ soccer teams but no girls’ soccer teams. Therefore, the promotion for girls’ [participation in sports] was not good...And so for example...girls feel like it’s in their DNA that girls are bad and boys are better, or something like that… I think the best programs are really [focused on] the relationship between the trainers and the girls...like that they have a role model, that they have a friend, that they have somebody who believes in them. And we have really good trainers, and this is our main focus-- that we have...people who really like to work with girls and really believe that… Itong also mentioned the Soccer camp and Chance Tanz programs that her organization, Seiten Wechsel organizes. JESS MCKAY: That sounds so cool. So, what other recommendations would you have for organizations that are looking to expand their girls’ empowerment programming? ITONG EHRKE: I would say you need, somehow, some feminist men or women in your company. [Also] you need a structural perspective. You really need people who burn for change. It is very important to have people who are enthusiastic to change stuff… and I always think you need to have women on the board...Some people think that [the term] feminist has a negative feeling, but it’s just a person who wants everybody to have the same options. [Also] I think that having women on your board is also a statement for girls. JESS MCKAY: I think that it is really important to have women represented in leadership. ITONG EHRKE: Yes. And I think that if people are just starting [they should ask themselves], What do the girls in your neighborhood need?, and not, What do you want to do? [And if you’re working in a school] ...What does the school need? And not what does your club need? JESS MCKAY: Great. So how have sports impacted your life? ITONG EHRKE: Yeah, well, when I was a kid, [in the] countryside of Germany...I was bored in my own way on the streets. We had rollerblades or something like that, so I have never joined a club when I was a kid, but when I was 22, I began to join a karate class. That had a strong impact on my life. So, then I studied physical education because I was interested in [that field], I thought, I started karate. I was very active at that time and then I studied in that field because I was interested in [sports]. And then, in every section of my life, sports have been important. It's my job, it's also what I really like to do on my own and with people. I'm also a fitness trainer. I was a swim trainer for 18 years. It brought me a lot of connections to people. I like this connection. JESS MCKAY: That's amazing and fun. I'm a swimmer as well. I swam all my childhood until I went to university. But yeah, I miss it. I can't go swimming right now, but if I could, I would. So, if you could play a game of soccer with anyone in history, who would it be? ITONG EHRKE: … Could it be someone who is not known? JESS MCKAY: Yes… Or how about someone you can swim with? ITONG EHRKE: The first person that came to mind is Nelson Mandela...Yeah, he's just a very interesting person. I would be very interested to have a philosophical talk with some people like them, like, like a person like him, who's was very wise. JESS MCKAY: Yeah, that's awesome. That's really cool. He would definitely be a great person to talk to. Yeah, do you have a life slogan or a life motto? ITONG EHRKE: Yes, I have one in German but it doesn’t rhyme in English. JESS MCKAY: That’s okay. ITONG EHRKE: [It is] ...There is nothing good if you don’t do it. JESS MCKAY: That’s awesome in English, too! ITONG EHRKE: [There’s another one] from a band in Vancouver. Minus action is zero. So that’s kind of my approach...there’s nothing good if you just talk about it. JESS MCKAY: Yeah, that's a good philosophy, I could see why you work with Girls in the Lead… I feel like it's very action-based. It was so nice to talk to you!