I never thought a soccer ball could make me cry.
Let me explain…
This is what the gift of a soccer ball looks like in Colombia.
A team in the middle of a dirt field practising every night. Two young men, sponsored as children, now coaches, committed and clear-headed. Mentors in every way.
This is the living breathing outcome of presents from a World Vision gift catalogue.
A vulnerable space made into a soccer field in a community where drugs, gangs and crime are extremely big threats to a child’s safety. Poverty lives here every day. It can easily outweigh everything else and pull you in thinking there’s a quick fix. But not if you are kept busy, given spaces to build strengths, build healthy bodies and friendships.
It is my first full day in Colombia travelling with World Vision Canada. Today we have landed here in Taminango, not far from Santander De Quilichao which has the countries’ second largest heroin problem. Our bus stops in the middle of an open field. Taminango is about an hour from Cali in the south of Colombia. We get out and walk to what appears to be a soccer practice. There are roughly 40 kids between the ages of 6 and 16 all running through drills. Nearby, brothers and sisters tumble down and then climb back up the side of a small cliff. Once in a while they pause to watch.
In the distance someone is standing on a rooftop. This open field feels exposed. Roosters and chickens run around very close by. Our bus moves in closer to us. Several women do too. It’s unclear why the women are here, but eventually it will make sense.
Juan and Miguel, 20, were both sponsored as children by someone in Canada. They remember being very young. One says three. Maybe five says the other. They are each dressed immaculately and they are extremely articulate. Miguel and Juan are the coaches here. They are also Peace Keepers, which is a youth mentoring and advocacy movement that has grown and spread throughout the country. Both Juan and Miguel now are also sponsored to attend university. That is a big honour for kids who came from a poor area. It is something each takes seriously. Later, I am told both boys travel by bus more than one hour each day of the week to Cali. That would be a big enough commitment on its own, but add to that the fact the open highway that leads from Cali to Taminango and through Santander De Quilichao is treacherous. One day we see that police have stopped a bus on a bridge and they are taking two people away. Remember this is an area where drugs and gangs and theft and guns and poverty all go hand in hand. People in gangs addicted to heroin often are not predictable. Now add guns. Peace Keepers gives children a voice in a country that has had a violent and devastating history. Peace Keepers builds mentors that pay it forward exponentially with future generations. The movement also cultivates advocates. I am here to learn more about this concept to write more about Peace Keepers. But today I am completely overwhelmed by soccer balls.
Before I travelled to Colombia with World Vision Canada, I glanced through the annual gift catalogue. Gifts that inspire. Gifts that have meaning are apparent on every page. I looked through the catalogue with my daughter routinely. We spied soccer balls and sports equipment on one of the pages of the physical catalogue and it sat strangely with me. I admit I didn’t understand why that was a gift inside a catalogue full of weighty things like chickens and medicine and latrines. Soccer balls seem so trivial. I didn’t get what a soccer ball could possibly have to do with community building, or poverty or children in Colombia. The goats, I understand. The chickens I totally comprehend. Soccer balls? One of these things is not like the other. Which one doesn’t belong?
Last year my daughter asked to give all of her babysitting money to buy a goat from the World Vision Canada gift catalogue. I asked her to wait. I was hoping to teach her to save some for her, before she gives some to someone else. Now that I am here in Colombia watching exactly what a gift from the gift catalogue looks like, what it gives – so much more than money – I berate myself inside my head for waiting.
This is what a gift of three soccer balls gives to a team in Taminango.
Three soccer balls equal:
Two amazing young coaches.
Two jobs that fill their spare time.
Two lives in focus.
Two young men studying to be phys ed teachers.
Lives with purpose.
A chance to reconnect with what they missed as children.
Inspiration to help other children in their community.
The same soccer balls give 40 boys a space to be safe.
Exercise, activity, health, hope and self esteem.
A space to grow into healthy, respectful citizens.
I never imagined, looking at the World Vision Canada gift catalogue, that a soccer ball could be a powerful weapon in the fight against gangs, drugs and poverty. Standing here in this field listening to Juan and Miguel I see that a soccer ball is one of the most amazing tools available to battle such formidable monsters. Later, as I start to piece this altogether in my head with words and frame it in the context of the country I am getting to know, I find that I am moved to tears by soccer balls.
But what of these women? The ones at the start of this story who appear out of nowhere and flank us mysteriously. I assumed they were spectators here. There were some amazing players. But, they are in fact more. They are part of an organized community group of women leaders (more on that group later) and they stop the bus as we are almost ready to leave and offer us food and drinks. They tell a translator thank you World Vision Canada. Ongoing sponsorship, and gifts from the World Vision Canada holiday gift catalogue have transformed this area. They bring hope, dignity and independence. All rolled up in the shape of a soccer ball.
I am sharing my journey to Colombia with World Vision Canada here on the blog in a series.
You can read
Part 1: The Briefing
Part 2: Where Hope Lives
tomorrow read more about the women of this community…..
Sponsor a child and change a community. Or you can buy something for someone this year that makes a difference to an entire community like this one. Visit the gift catalogue here: http://bit.ly/1pbSZpV
For more information visit the main World Vision site.
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