Heart Is Everything
CAC volunteer Niki Herdegen talks about her final week in Brazil with ACER Brazil in Sao Paulo.
July 8th 2015. My final week spent in Brazil was filled with laughter, creativity, and incredible football while working with ACER Brazil in Diadema. I remember how apprehensive I was when I first drove up to my temporary home for two weeks. The community we were staying in didn’t have the best reputation associated with it and I was very nervous. I didn’t know if my coaching abilities were strong enough to help me really get through to the people of this community. To my dismay, I learned a powerful message about football; football is a universal language with no boundaries. No matter how great or terrible my abilities as a coach were, it wouldn’t matter. My bond with the players at ACER was strictly related to the beautiful game. The people instantly made me feel at home and more importantly part of the community. Our week was spent talking about the problems that people were seeing and experiencing first hand in the community. It truly is a one of a kind experience to be staying right where some of the things we were discussing was going on. Despite all the heartache some of our participants experienced, nothing stopped them from smiling. They were some of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met in my life and their football skills surpassed others from the weeks prior. It was an incredible final week. ACER Brasil is a program that allows safe places for children and teens and I know the games taught by CAC will be implemented in all of their programs.
I experienced some of the social problems we discussed during a game of night football with the local girls in Diadema. They locked us in the facility to keep others from wondering in and to keep the focus on the most important thing, the game. As all of us girls laughed and battled in intense games of 5 vs. 5, you couldn’t help but notice what was going on around us. Right in front of my eyes people were dealing drugs and using. I couldn’t believe it. Although we were locked safely in our facility, it seemed as if we couldn’t escape the drugs of this area. As frightened as I was, the girls really inspired me and picked me up during that time. By just playing soccer they are proving to the drug dealers around them that they are so much stronger than they are. The simple game of football has empowered them and has taken them down a path that doesn’t include drugs. Those girls were truly inspiring and their strength did not go unseen. They continued to play un-phased and working hard as ever, showing the rest of the community that you do have a choice.
As my week with ACER came to an end I couldn’t help but to reflect on the past four weeks I have spent in Brazil. Every city and program I went to offered a different perspective on problem solving in their communities and taught me very valuable lessons that I could take home with me to Los Angeles as well. My dad always taught me to play with heart, and wow do the Brazilians play with it. A simple game of football has enough power to bring a community together. With Coaches Across Continents, we take that unifying nature and help destroy all the social problems in these neighborhoods. Heart really is everything and the people of Brazil showed me first hand what positive impact can look like. Thank you to the people of Diadema for sharing your home with me and all the other incredible friends I have made while staying in Brazil. I will be back!