Very Real Challenges In Santafé
May 23rd 2016. CAC volunteer Taylor Diem writes about his first CAC experience in Bogota, Colombia with Colombianitos.
A 6am flight and two connections through Dallas and Miami and I touched down in Bogota, Colombia. I arrived a couple hours before our group leader Markus, a full time staff member with CAC, who has been with the organization for a little over 2 years. Beatrice or “Betty” for short, greeted us at the airport. She works for Colombianitos, the organization we’d be working with in Bogota and Manizales over the next few weeks. Her English was a bit better than my Spanish, which, after taking only a year in college, barely permitted me to ask where the bathroom was. No worries though, Markus had spent enough time working in Spanish speaking countries in the last year that he was able to communicate pretty well.
Later that night we were joined by Ruben, another full time SDL Coach with CAC, and Pedro, a Community Impact Coach out of Lima, Peru. The three of them had just their trainings in Peru. Another volunteer, Bobby Zolper flew in Monday afternoon.
I was amazed at the population density of the city and especially the area we were in, Santafé de Bogotá (specifically Ciudad Bolívar). Houses with cement walls and tin roofs lined the hillsides as far as I could see, and the streets were filled with people, motorcycles, and dogs. Santafé is considered one of the most dangerous parts of the city, and we were later told that the futsal court we had played at while staying there was the site of 10 deaths over the past three or four weeks. Scary stuff, but these are the areas where CAC does it’s work.
Where do you start with an experience like this? I joined CAC as a volunteer, knowing this would be a life changing experience, and after only one week into my four week stint with the organization, it was clear to me that I had underestimated the impact this would have on my life. Throughout the week, we worked with coaches and youth leaders from Colombianitos and other organizations from surrounding areas, spending the first few days playing games intended to help them understand how the sport that means so much to their community, could lead to social change. On the last day, we challenged the participants to put what we had learned throughout the week into practice by running their own sessions with local children. It was incredible to see how much they had learned in such a short amount of time. The passion they have for their community and the determination to make things better for future generations was and is truly inspiring.
I was Face Timing a friend from back home, telling her about my experiences so far and we started talking about the differences between these cultures and our own. In the United States, children are sheltered from the real social issues in their communities in an attempt to protect their innocence and ensure their safety. In Santafé and similar communities, drugs, violence, disease and scarce financial resources are very much a part of their daily lives. Their challenges are very real.
After the week was over, I was totally conflicted. On one hand, I didn’t want to leave this community and these people behind. It’s never easy saying goodbye to friends, especially if you’re fairly certain you’ll never see them again. The relationships we’ve created over the past three days are ones I will hold forever. Incredible, considering we spent a mere 18 hours together. But, that’s the power of this sport and this organization. I came here with as much information as the field manual for Coaches Across Continents could provide, but I’m walking away knowing I’ve learned more from these people than they could have ever have learned from me.
At the same time, leaving this place we’ve called home for the past week is exactly what Coaches Across Continents is all about. We came to this community to provide tools they could use to support their efforts to promote the change they feel is needed. We taught them some games, but more importantly, we challenged them to create a safe and healthy environment that encourages thought and collaboration for and between members of their community and to think about how the games we played might be used to teach and provoke change in the cultural norms of their community.
A HUGE thank you to our host family, the Cortés. They were incredibly hospitable and kind throughout our stay. They made us feel welcome, supported our efforts and secured a place in my heart forever.