February 20th, 2013. Anna and I arrived Sunday morning at the Cali airport where we met Maria Antonio, one of our guardian angels and partners from the Colombianitos organization. After travelling through miles and miles of sugarcane fields, we made it to our destination in Puerto Tejada. Maria Luz and her husband Gregorio are very kindly hosting Nick, Anna and I for the week. Besides filling us in with doses of local history, culture and security questions, our fantastic hosts have also been filling us up with generous portions of local cuisine.
We have been working in the mornings at a great facility close to Maria Luz’s home with coaches from our implementing partner organization Colombianitos, along with a number of other NGOs from surrounding communities, including SIDOC, Fundación Talentos, Crecer Jugando and Fundación Carvajal. These distinct groups were very quick to integrate and open up discussions about local social issues. The some of the most prevalent challenges facing young people in the community include violence, gangs, drug abuse and teen pregnancy, and we have been working with the coaches about how to best adapt CAC games in this context. One of the most encouraging aspects of the week has been the coaches’ commitment to improving their communities and creating opportunities for young boys and girls. They see sport as a vehicle for positive change and are more concerned with their social impact than the number of professional players they develop.
Afternoons have been spent visiting sites with our partner coaches to meet and play with some of their kids. On Monday and Tuesday we visited some of the Colombianitos sites in Puerto Tejada, where we not only laced up our boots, but also dabbled in some music, art and dance. While Anna and I were getting lessons in Afrocolombian dance moves, Nick was busy spreading the Gangnam Style dance bug around town. On Wednesday, we took an afternoon trip to Corinto-Cauca. We were tentative to go because the town is next to a mountain range occupied by guerilla forces, but ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC and a fantastic group of coaches willing to escort us convinced us that it was an offer worth taking up. Fundación Talentos, the Corinto NGO that we visited, started as a football club in 1980, and has since grown and taken on a variety of social projects thanks to its impressive leadership and dedicated staff.
The final two days are all about reinforcing major themes and building the coaches’ confidence in utilizing the games and messages we have been working with. We visited SIDOC Thursday afternoon in Cali, which allowed us to run a 3 hour session with a group of kids at a facility located high up in the surrounding mountains.
By the end of the final session on Friday, which included a host of interesting life skill games that were met with great enthusiasm by the coaches, all feedback has remained positive. All the participants have really come together as a group and everyone is very happy with what we achieved in one short week. The real measure of success will be the extent to which the local organizations are able to adapt the sport for development lessons into their weekly activities and CAC has developed a 24 week curriculum for all the partners. I, personally, am confident that our partners will make the most of these ideas and generate significant impact for children in the region. When you are working with such compassionate, open and determined people, it is hard to imagine otherwise!
“One zillion thanks again for sharing with us your time and invaluable knowledge!” From Colombianitos