Soccer Without Borders

8 Sep

In one of the largest shantytowns of Argentina, Soccer Without Borders supports a soccer team that focuses on teaching adolescent girls self-confidence and teamwork.   The team is from Villa 31 in the center of Buenos Aires where approximately 20,000 families live in conditions far worse than any ghetto I have seen in North America and closely resembles the shantytowns Africa is known for. The neighbourhood is often referred to as “villa de emergencia” or “villa miseria” and is situated right behind the central station.

The team was founded in 2007 by Allison Lasser who was a graduate student living in Buenos Aires.  She worked to pull together weekly practices with the girls and partnered with a group of women in the US to make sure that team would have the support to continue when she left.  The team also has the backing of Democracia Representativa, a local non-profit which helps to build community support and awareness of the program.  The coaching staff holds bi-weekly soccer practices with 53 girls.

When I explained to my taxi driver that I was going to Villa 31 he stopped the cab and began to lecture me of the dangers that awaited me as did many Argentinian friends who had never and would never enter Villa 31.  I was not going ‘in’ alone, I was being meet at the bus station by the coach, Monica Santino,  and a psychologist, Liliana Cura, that works with the adolescents apart of the soccer club.

It was pouring rain, cold and getting dark.  We walked slowly on the muddy unpaved streets, carefully avoiding the holes, rocks and garbage, trying not to slip.  Many of the buildings they call home are made from scraps of tin , wood and any other material that can be found.  We wandered through narrow internal passages that connected different parts of the community.  There is no sanitation system, although there are water pipes passing through some parts of the settlement and electric power is sometimes taken directly from the grid illegally.  The villas draw people from various backgrounds, most of them are migrants, coming from neighbouring poor countries like Paraguay and Bolivia. The rest are local citizens who come from precarious economic situations.

After practice, I met some the girls in a small community centre that is part of a church.  Most were shy to talk to me at first, so to break the ice I passed them my video camera and asked them to interview me first.  This worked like a charm and we all had a good laugh.  The girls shared their feelings with me about being a part of the team.  Check out the video on my Facebook page Yasmene Salhia Around the World or on my youtube channel at LivingBorderless.

The teens spoke about the obstacles they face in their community. A list encompassing gangs, drug and alcohol addiction, teen-age pregnancy, domestic violence, absent fathers, violence, and prostitution. The girls, who have astonishingly few opportunities, often are trapped by their domestic chores and machismo, yet finding time for soccer or space on the field as the boys often kick them off, is a concern they all share.

The girls won a competition and were able to purchase new uniforms that they were extremely proud of, but they still require proper foot wear.  I bought them some much needed equipment and hope to organize some type of sponsorship/donation/affiliation for them to continue to play.   If anyone reading this is involved in their local soccer community and would like to help please send me a message.  Any and all suggestions welcome!

In 2009, one of the girls from the team qualified to be part of a World Cup for youth living in poverty, and she was the only girl selected to be on Argentina’s youth team.  For the first time the girl’s team is attending  The Homeless World Cup to be held in Rio, Brazil next week. After a Saturday afternoon practice outside the Villa 31, I spoke with the selected players and their coach about their upcoming trip and what it means to them.   Check out the video on my Facebook page Yasmene Salhia Around the World or on my youtube channel Living Borderless.

Not only has Soccer Without Borders built an incredible girls soccer team, they have also created a safe space where the players can talk openly about their lives and the challenges they face.  Soccer Without Borders runs programs in many countries, for more information and how you can get involved click here.

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