July 29, 2013. In early 2013, Coaches Across Continents was contacted by a London-based organization called ABC (Action for Brazilian Children) Trust. ABC had heard about CAC’s program in Colombia and thought there was a high demand for similar work in Brazil. Tim Linden, who worked with CAC in Colombia and lives in São Paulo, met with Jonathan Hannay to learn more about ACER, one of ABC Trust’s local partners. Based in one of the most difficult neighborhoods of São Paulo’s southern periphery, Eldorado, ACER has been providing extraordinary support to at-risk youth in the community since 1993. In addition to tending to hundreds of children’s personal situations, ACER runs a slew of programs and cultural activities that include music, reading, art and capoeira.
Eldorado is located in a municipality called Diadema. With a population of 357,000, living in 32km², Diadema is the second most densely populated area in Brazil. The population is predominantly low income, with 14% living in extreme poverty without any fixed income. Historically, Diadema is a national leader in the levels of criminality, especially violence and drug trade, and has high levels of social exclusion and slow child development. The Eldorado neighborhood is stigmatized as one of the most problematic areas in Diadema.
Like CAC, ABC Trust and ACER believe that football has the potential to make a major social difference in places such as Eldourado. A pilot project in the area during 2009 and 2010 showed that using inclusive sporting activities it was possible to reclaim public spaces from drug traffickers and engage young people and community leaders in activities that had very positive impacts on an individual and community level. Building on the success of this pilot project, ACER will focus on using football to reach 800 children from 3 of the region’s most neglected and vulnerable groups: girls and young women; young men involved in illicit activities; boys at risk of engaging in criminal activities.
Though the sports program was just recently incorporated into the ACER organization, the vision and commitment of the individuals involved made ACER an ideal partner for CAC. A locally driven, sustainable structure is already in place: the general coordinator, Luiz Cézar, oversees the work of the three head coaches, Orlando, Robson and Wesley. Each head coach has at least one assistant coach and a small team of monitors and youth monitors, who serve as peer leaders and meet regularly with the coaching staff to provide feedback. Young leaders are invited to become youth monitors, and through demonstrating maturity and effectiveness, they have the opportunity to advance to the next position and take on more responsibility within the organization. However, the ACER sports program was missing a key piece: experience working with a sport for social impact methodology and curriculum. Luckily, this is exactly what CAC has to offer.
Nick Gates and Tim Linden ran morning training sessions for the ACER group, as well as representatives from other local NGOs and sport clubs. The trainings taught the coaches how they could use sport to address issues such as communication skills, conflict resolution, female empowerment and health and well-being. Given the local context and input, CAC determined these issues to be priority areas, and believed that making progress in these areas will have a broad range of positive externalities throughout society. In the afternoons, CAC observed the ACER coaches as they adapted many of the CAC games and taught them to local youth teams. It was impressive to see the ACER coaches take what they learned in the morning sessions and appropriate the games and lessons in a way that they became more easily digestible and relatable to the community.
In a special twist for the ACER coaches, One World Futbol partnered with CAC throughout the week and made a donation of indestructible balls, which were to be used throughout the CAC trainings and beyond. GM and an ESPN film crew also joined in on the action in order to capture the local impact of the indestructible balls, which will be featured in a story about the One World Futbol donations to target communities throughout the world. While One World Futbol’s focus is the ball itself, CAC stressed the importance of knowing how to use it as a tool for social impact, or “bringing the ball to life”. The film crew covered multiple trainings and conducted interviews about how football has impacted the lives of the local ACER coaches, who were luckily much more photogenic than the CAC staff.
At the week’s conclusion, one could say the timing was nearly perfect for CAC to make its mark on Brazil’s futsol courts and dusty pitches. During and in the weeks prior to the CAC trainings, there a wave of public demonstrations swept through the country. Among the topics being protested, one recurring theme had been popular discontent with the government’s decision to spend billions of dollars in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics, despite the very poor quality of infrastructure, security, education and healthcare available to the Brazilian masses. In this context, football itself has been tied to broader issues of corruption and inequality, leading many Brazilians to view the sport as an impediment to social progress. With the help of One World Football, GM and ESPN, and through continued partnerships with ABC Trust and ACER in the coming years, CAC hopes to be at the forefront of a movement demonstrating the social value that football can generate for Brazil and eventually help shape the social legacy of the 2014 World Cup.