April 15th 2016. With his final week On-Field with CAC, long-term volunteer CJ Fritz tells us about CAC’s fourth and final week in the country with ACER Brasil.
Diadema, a city just beyond the outer reaches of Sao Paulo, Brazil, has had a troubled past. For a long time it was one of the biggest hot spots for violent crime in Brazil, most notably including murders. But over the last few years, it has undergone a transformation.
Since the city government decided to restrict the time at which bars in the city could close, the murder rate has fallen by 50%, an unprecedented free fall.
Now, changing the closing time of establishments that sell alcohol did not magically reduce violent crime. The change also sprang from a city full of people ready to move forward. They were committed to altering Diadema in a positive way, and they have succeeded.
We could see this mindset in our group on the very first day that we worked with them. We had about 30 participants in all, and they brought a fantastic energy to the sessions. They were enthusiastic and willing to jump right into anything that we threw their way.
They were not the first group ever to be fun-loving; what set them apart was their ability to flip the switch seamlessly between goofy and serious. That is a difficult ability to have, but they exhibited that skill repeatedly throughout the week.
Beyond that still, they continually questioned and disagreed and discussed from Monday to Friday. When asked how many people were in their family, some volleyed back “how do you define family?” When a man stated that women should not be in the role of fireman, hands shot up around the room, eager to present their counterpoint to the statement.
These are the signs of moving forward. How can anything change if we don’t question our traditions? How can we introduce new ideas if we refuse to discuss the problems at hand? In Diadema, the participants showed clear signals of a group not content with current progress. They demand more from themselves and those around them because they are aware of what it takes to change.
By the end of the week, I was extremely impressed by this group, and if they are any indicator of the general mindset in Diadema, I see every hint that there is more positive change to come in their city.
When I asked one of our more experienced participants why her work was so important to her, she responded without missing a beat, “because we must keep moving forward.”
Help A Community In Need This Christmas
December 12th 2015. This holiday season Coaches Across Continents is asking you to help youth in at-risk disadvantaged communities all over the world. Throughout December we have been counting down (or up) CAC’s 12 communities of Christmas which you can directly support by making a donation on Firstgiving. Your donations are incredibly important to ensure that children in these communities continue to get the opportunity to learn about vital social messages and have the ability to take ownership of their own choices.
Sentani, Indonesia, was the 7th CAC community of Christmas. Indonesia has many underserved populations living in remote regions where few international groups offer assistance. Make a donation on this Firstgiving page to directly assist these populations through our work.
Kathmandu, Nepal was the 1st CAC community of Christmas. Support Kathmandu on this page.
Diadema, Brazil was the 2nd CAC community of Christmas. Support Diadema on this page.
Shkoder, Albania was the 3rd CAC community of Christmas. Support Shkoder on this page.
Leogane, Haiti was the 4th CAC community of Christmas. Support Leogane on this page.
Nagpur, India was the 5th CAC community of Christmas. Support Nagpur on this page.
Stellenbosch, South Africa was the 6th CAC community of Christmas. Support Stellenbosch on this page.
Zanzibar, Tanzania was the 8th CAC community of Christmas. Support Zanzibar on this page.
Lubumbashi, DRC is the 9th CAC community of Christmas. Support Lubumbashi on this page.
Keep watching our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular updates on CAC’s 12 communities of Christmas this holiday season. Don’t forget as we approach the end of the US tax year that, as a registered non-profit, your donation to Coaches Across Continents is tax-deductible. Our EIN number is 32-0249174.
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!
A Tale of Two Brazils
July 28, 2014. Volunteer Tiffany Fonseca (Harvard, ’15) compares her time with CAC in Brazil to her semester abroad in Rio de Janiero. Before I talk more about the final week, I should begin by saying that Brazil was not new to me at the start of the CAC program. I studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro for seven months last year, immersing myself in Brazilian culture and brushing up on my Portuguese. But even though I technically lived here, many aspects of my experience were lived through a tourist’s point of view. I hung out with the international kids. I heeded the university’s advice to stay out of the favelas, with the exception of one or two particularly pacified and gentrified ones. I stayed within the confines of Rio’s wealthy South Zone, home of the Rio postcard pictures, scenic beaches and nice houses- relatively absent of the abject poverty of the north. Even though poverty and wealth exist in such close proximity in this country, I managed to block out the poorer 80%, not because the Brazilian inequality issue didn’t appall me, but because for the time being I wanted to enjoy my quintessential study abroad experience. However, regardless of what I thought I knew, or what white Brazilians told me about how the other (more than) half lived, I was naïve and admittedly a little paranoid when we drove into Diadema on that first day, and needless to say I was seeing a Brazil I was completely unfamiliar with, a Brazil I had been warned against.
A week later that paranoia was out the window. In fact I don’t even think it’s possible to nicely encapsulate right here the wonderful experience that was my four weeks with CAC. Especially in these last two weeks in Diadema and Campo Limpo, I’ve met the most genuine Brazilians I’ve met all year. Their communities may not be perfect but they don’t deserve some of the labels they are given. These people are truly invested in the future of their community. They’re thoughtful, determined, and selfless. They have amazingly positive attitudes. They inspire me to do better.
As I was saying, words can’t do this experience justice. But here goes anyway: Our final week in Brazil went above and beyond expectations. I don’t think I could have asked for a better end to our time here. It was our second week in São Paulo, this time with our partners at Futebol Social in Campo Limpo. After an hour-long drive to the field on the first dreary, cloudy morning, we were greeted with a familiar sight: new faces, some smiling and some timid, many young men and women, and a few older guys as well. It didn’t take long after introductions and Circle of Friends for the skies to clear up. Feeling the sun shine through the clouds and watching everyone open up as they ran around, smiling and laughing like carefree children, I could tell this week would not disappoint.
The level of engagement we received this week was phenomenal. Wanting to tailor to the community’s specific needs, we asked what the biggest social problems were. Overwhelmingly the response was drugs and violence, among other things. As we tackled various issues throughout the week, I experienced some of the most rewarding moments of my CAC experience.
One coach came up to me right after a gender equity game to talk about the boys team and girls team he coached. Unfortunately, though the discouragement of parents due to cultural norms, the girls slowly stopped coming to the point where he didn’t have a team anymore. We had a great conversation along with Brian about the importance of getting the message of equality to parents in order to prevent sexist tradition from keeping girls off the field.
In another instance, after a game of “Can Adebayor see HIV?” one man stepped forward and talked about losing his uncle to AIDS. The dialogue this started was amazing. We stood there and witnessed the coaches educating each other about facts and myths of HIV without having to say a word ourselves.
These moments for me are so encouraging because they prove that the coaches are really taking the issues to heart and see the games as real solutions they can apply in their community. It took me 4 weeks to slowly understand the difference we were making. It’s one thing to know what sport for social impact is. It’s a completely different thing to see it taking hold in the minds of community and youth leaders on the field. That is the real reason the last day was so definitive for me. Not simply because it was the last day, but because I have never received more genuine thank-yous and hugs and handshakes before!
Thank you too, Campo Limpo. Obrigada!
Prince Harry visits ACER
June 26th 2014. Coaches Across Continents’ implementing community partner ACER- Association for Support of Children at Risk- had a special guest in Diadema, Sao Paulo. British royal Prince Harry visited ACER after watching England’s World Cup game against Costa Rica. He played soccer with some of the children in the ACER project, children who are directly impacted by the Coaches Across Continents social impact curriculum. They made sure to use the virtually indestructible One World Futbol for the games with the Prince. He also heard some of the children’s emotional stories and backgrounds involving drug abuse and violence.
CAC volunteer Tim Linden is in Sao Paulo with ACER and watched the Prince as he played. Tim has volunteered with CAC a number of times and will be helping to run the 2nd year of our program with ACER in Sao Paulo in just 10 days. Tim can be seen in the picture above in a Harvard jersey in the back left. As a very strong implementing community partner organisation we are looking forward to getting to Sao Paulo and working with ACER to further improve the social outlook for local youth. Even if we did miss Prince Harry by 10 days. If only England lasted longer in the World Cup!
Photos courtesy of PA and Getty Images