• Shared Enjoyment of the Human Experience

    CAC volunteer Bobby Zolper writes about hospitality in Manizales, Colombia with Colombianitos.

    May 27th 2016. As a first time volunteer with CAC I have found the connections made between ourselves and the people of the partner programs to be profound and quickly formed. On-Field connections with participants transcend the language barrier through the universal language of football. Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or social status, people all over the world can relate to a shared love for the beautiful game. This is a phenomenon I have experienced before and was happy to experience once again in Manizales, Colombia. Although I expected to bond with the members of Colombianitos, the organization we worked with in Manizales, I never expected equal connections to carry over to the host family, whom we would stay with for only a week.

    Our team, consisting of myself, two other volunteers (Cameron and Taylor), a Community Impact Coach from Peru (Pedro), and two full-time CAC staff members (Markus and Ruben), was lodged in a flat directly above our host family. Below us lived Jimena, her husband, a taxi driver named Miguel and her two sons Rafael and Nicolas. We spent most of our down time with the family finding out about each others life in a different country as effectively as our language abilities allowed us to. Most of these questions provided little insight into the lives of one another but rather gave a sense of each others personality and made for enjoyable and incredibly funny conversations. The strongest bond I formed within their family was with 10 year old Nico. Nico shared the same love for the computer game FIFA as I do and, considering my Spanish ability, was the person I was able to communicate best with! Nico loved to play football and was quite the player too. He also emulated his idol, Colombian superstar James Rodriguez. Nico was quick to extend an invitation to play with him and I enjoyed his company as much as he did ours.

    After a week with the family, we departed for Medellin. Shortly thereafter, we received a phone call from Jimena who had come home to her son crying from missing us being there. This was a touching thing for us to hear and I had not realized how much we had meant to Nico. We had left him with t-shirts from our respective universities and he had left us with a lesson to learn from. If the world was filled with people as genuine and as willing to accept a stranger as a friend as Nico was, we would all live in a much better place. If all people were to connect based upon the shared enjoyment of the human experience the same way we connect over the love of football, CAC would have a lot less work to do! The members of our team thank Jimena and her family for the incredible hospitality and I hope they know they will never be forgotten.


  • What Is CAC?

    May 11th 2016. CAC’s long serving volunteer CJ Fritz wrote about his full experience with the organization on 4 continents!

    Full disclosure, what you are reading is my sixth draft of this blog. After seven incredible months of working with CAC, when our program in Diadema ended, so did my volunteer trip with this incredible organization.

    I asked a few weeks ago to reserve the chance to write this blog because it would be my last. I thought it would be a breeze, a little heartfelt note to CAC that would take no less than an hour to write.

    Now after trying 6 times and spending far too long staring at a blank document, I realize how difficult describing CAC is. CAC is ever shifting and adapting, so getting a line on it and pinning it down would be near impossible.

    Seven months ago, I was nervous — terrified, really — about what I had gotten myself into. I arrived in Indonesia in late August for my first program not knowing what was coming and seriously doubting every decision I had made in choosing to take such a crazy journey.

    Now, in early April, I’m nervous –terrified, really — that nothing can possibly live up to working with CAC.

    So what is this organization that had such an enormous impact on me? What is CAC? There is no one answer:

    CAC is sleeping on plastic mattresses on the floor of a building with no running water and more power outages than chickens in the yard.

    CAC is having one of only two women in a program give you hope for change when she speaks up in front of 60 men about respecting women.

    CAC is having to leave a country before you realized that you had really arrived, on to the next program. It is rickety buses, fantastic stories, questionable bedspreads, big breakthroughs, optimism and definitely some disagreements.

    CAC is coming to a community and asking what problems the participants want to solve instead of telling them what to solve.

    CAC is the process of giving useful tools and then getting out of the way: letting a community use all or none of what we present and trying not to impose.

    It is confronting huge issues head-on, long travel days (understatement), celebrating the little wins and bonding with inspiring people around the world.

    Without CAC, I never would have experienced the pure energy Haitian Initiative coaches could introduce to a training session, or the complexity into which the Inder coaches in Medellin would delve into the issue of child abuse, or the bright smiles and positivity we would see from coaches in Iringa, Tanzania.

    Most importantly to me, CAC is a chance, an opportunity. It is an opportunity to work toward something great with like minded people. It is the chance to challenge your own beliefs and to question everything.

    CAC is the opportunity to change just one life, and as long as there is that chance, this work will always be worth doing.
    Thank you to my CAC family and all of the incredible people I had the pleasure of working with around the world; you have all inspired me.
  • Keeper Scores in Colombia

    October 15th 2015. SDL Coach Nora Dooley writes about our first full training with Inder Medellín’s Deporte y Convivencia contingent, facilitated by Colombia partner Grupo Internacional de Paz.

    Push the envelope. Test the limits. Stretch the boundaries. Throw the kitchen sink. Raise the bar. Think outside of the box.

    These are all great idioms that well describe what we were striving for during our recent training with Inder Medellín. But for the sake of following our own advice – and for the beauty of football – we decided to create something new.

    So what in football represents this feeling? This need to rise to a challenge, to test ourselves and the participants that we are training who are asking for more with their experience, their language, and their honed knowledge of sport for social impact?

    Bring the keeper up!!!

    It was late in the game. We ran a one-day training with this group in February, and though it was productive and fun, we did not leave the pitch that day feeling like we left it all out there – or had enough time to find our rhythm.

    We weren’t down a goal, but we wanted the win. Grupo Internacional de Paz is a valuable partner for us in Colombia, having already set up programs for us to run earlier this year, they arranged for us to continue our work in Medellín. As I was part of the team here in February, I knew some of what this group of Inder coaches was capable of, and I also knew how little we had – yet – tested them.

    We thus had a goal in our sights. And we were willing to stretch ourselves to get there, to take risks, and to honor the struggle regardless of the outcome.

    It was time to bring the keeper up. With the keeper out of the goal, we were constantly on our toes, coming up with strategies and back-up plans in anticipation of that which is impossible to anticipate. But all the while knowing if our keeper scores, the risks and unknowns would be worth it.

    Our keeper was moving up all week. This group of participants – many from Inder’s Deporte y Convivencia initiative, others from outside organizations such as SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizage) – was an absolute joy on the field. Laughs were immediate and dependable, voices were assertive and considerate, insight was thoughtful and passionate, and minds were open and generous.

    All the positive energy only meant our task was more difficult. What can we offer this group that they will appreciate, embrace, and adopt? What will be new? How can we surprise? How do we get our keeper into the box? To score a goal??

    We play, we ask questions, we listen, we understand, we reflect, we ask more questions, we play more, we challenge them to create their own games with unique, relevant ideas, we participate, we ask more questions, and then we strategize with greater intention.

    A few of the requests made by the participants were for games that addressed some of the intense discussions we were having. These included equity vs. equality, acknowledgment of each other, games with different sports, responsibility and accountability, and fear of failure. The CAC curriculum is designed with adaptability in mind, and we have games to address all of these issues. But with one in particular – fear of failure – we thought it best to create a new game. So we played the others, allowed the discussions to unfold on-field, and demonstrated to the participants that they were being heard – all the while planning behind the scenes for the perfect set-up where our goalkeeper would either brutally miss, or score a golazo.

    The four of us (new SDL coach Rubén, myself, and two volunteer coaches CJ and Spring) planned individually and collectively and came up with a new game to address the fear of failure. The simple game that was anything but simple to design looks like this:

    The players will play individually. They have three options. With all three options they have 45 seconds to complete the chosen task. Option one is 5 push-ups and 5 burpees. Option two is 15 push-ups and 15 burpees. Option three is 30 and 30. The players choose, the coach says go, we play, the coach says stop.

    Then we play again. But this time the coach tells the players there will be a consequence. The players can change their choices. The challenge is the same or similar. We play.

    The consequence? Universal celebration. We celebrate the ones who completed the task. We celebrate the ones who did not complete the task. We celebrate those who tried their hardest. We celebrate honesty, self-awareness, effort, success, failure, and fun.

    In this line of work it is difficult to measure success – sometimes impossible. We cannot prove that our efforts had a positive impact on the group this week without extensive resources and time. We cannot prove that this game will help kids celebrate their failures as successes. We cannot prove that our goalkeeper scored. But I will write this, and you can choose to believe it or not – or you can go to Medellín and visit these wonderful, brilliant people – but we walked off that pitch with a collective vision that our keeper just scored a better goal than Lewandowski’s 5th in those 9 minutes, or Rooney’s bike in 2011, or maybe even better than Carli Lloyd’s from half-field…  ¡Que golazo!


  • Learning to Dance

    October 1st 2015. Volunteer coach, Emily Spring, details our first week back in Medellín, Colombia exploring new potential partners and building on our strong relationship with Grupo Internacional de Paz. 

    Our first week in Colombia was full of surprises. On Monday, based on the recommendation of our partner Grupo Internacional de Paz, we met with the directors of Cosdecol – a non-profit committed to organizing futbol teams for children living in communities scattered throughout the mountains in Medellín. Later that day, we received a schedule of trainings held by about seven coaches and assistants from Cosdecol. We were told we would visit their teams throughout the week. We didn’t know exactly what this visit entailed so, as we developed a plan for the week, we turned to Rubén’s simple advice: “We will dance.”

    And dance we did. We danced when we arrived on Tuesday morning and created a complete training session. We danced when one community’s problems of racism changed the conversation we were having with a group of children. During our free time, we danced atop mountains and in the metro. We danced when another conversation brought to light issues of gang violence and drug addiction. And by the end of the week, the four of us even learned to salsa.

    Learning to dance challenged us to embrace the unknown. It challenged us to listen and react accordingly. It challenged us to adapt our ideas and games to better impact a new situation. Perhaps most importantly, it challenged us to become the self-directed learners we always challenge our participants to become.

    We learned that we can never come into a training fully prepared, knowing exactly how kids will react to games or in which direction a conversation will go. Instead, we prepared ourselves with new dance steps and new ideas. And by the end of the week, we all learned that everyone wins when we’re dancing.


  • Say NO To Child Soldiers

    February 18th 2015. SDL Coach, Nora Dooley, writes about our first ever training in Medellín, Colombia with Grupo Internacional de Paz.

    A day for recognizing love, widely celebrated in the States, Valentine’s Day lands just two days after another day, little known in the US, but on calendars across the globe. Rather than red hearts, this one is a day for red hands; the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, Red Hand Day.

    Our team would spend this day in Medellín, Colombia, for the first of two programs this year with new partners, Grupo Internacional de Paz (GIP). This first program was one, very full day with an advanced group of coaches from Inder Alcaldia de Medellin, the sports institute of Medellín.

    We knew this would be a fun day when our Circulo de Amigos (Circle of Friends) kicked off with myself being taught a new version of salsa by one of the participants. Laughs filled the day, but this was also a group we knew we could engage on some serious issues plaguing the community. We learned this about them early on after a classic game of Mingle Mingle raised a debate about culture and tradition. The participants remarked how Colombia’s culture is more aggressive, and so the pushing and pulling occurring during the game is not as serious – there is a cultural understanding. This was a highly educated group of people and once they realized what they were saying, the debate quickly transitioned to discussing the need to redefine these cultural norms.

    That conversation, born from a teachable moment, set the pace for the rest of this action-packed day with CAC. This group of participants comprised of Inder coaches and leaders, karate masters and roller-bladers, as well as a FIFA referee who was in Brazil last summer, was well-versed in sport for social impact. It was clear that our organizational and developmental values were mutual, and this platform turned into an amazing setting for us all to learn from each other.

    One of the games I was especially excited about is part of our Child Rights curriculum. It is originally a game used to address the issues of child trafficking in the countries and communities where that is a grim reality. Here, however, we adapted the game just slightly to cover the issues surrounding the recruitment of child soldiers in Colombia.

    In this game there are four squares, one in each corner of a space (size is relative to the group). Each square represents a different reason children are recruited, and the participants come up with these prior to kickoff. This group asserted tasks such as prostitution, the use of children on the front-lines as deterrents, using children to carry drugs, and turning them into thieves for the cause.

    Then we needed volunteers to represent the various tactics the adults from the paramilitary forces and the guerilla rebel groups use to recruit children. This group was smaller so we only had two to start. The examples these participants thought of included tricking children with sweets, money, kidnapping them, threatening their families, and offering false promises. Then we started the game. When the ‘adults’ chase and catch a ‘child’ they bring them into one of the four spaces and they have to stay there. Once all the ‘children’ are ‘recruited’ for the various tasks, we stop and add a new rule.

    There is a difference between some of the tactics the recruiters use – kidnapping is not the same as a child accepting money or false promises. Now the taggers who have a ball in their hands represent recruitment by force and the ones with a cone represent a tactic that children can say no to – and in this variation of the game they can do just that – say, “No!”

    Then we play another variation, and this time with some positive elements. We ask the coaches what the suffering communities can do to prevent the different forms of recruitment and what they can teach the children to empower them to help themselves. These coaches brought up many different solutions such as safe spaces like sports, school, organizations and youth clubs, as well as spreading information, communicating, and sharing knowledge and ideas. In this next version we introduce 2-3 cones spread out around the pitch to represent safe spaces. We also introduce a moving ball that represents this positive communication. If a player has the ball (at their feet) or is standing at a cone they are safe – but they can only stand at a cone for 5 seconds and they have to share the ball!

    The program coordinator with us from GIP, Edgar Romero, stated following the training: “The Child Soldier game is by far the best way I have seen a social problem represented with a football practice. CAC teaches coaches about complex issues such as Illegal Groups, and how can we be part of the solution if we identify the means to reduce the risks by increasing the capacities in front of vulnerabilities and threats, with balls, people and cones.”

    What a great way to honor all the unnecessary deaths of child soldiers all over the world – a day spent with people whose key purpose is to use sport to engage children and prevent such atrocities. On this day we not only fight to help in the prevention of child soldiers in Colombia but in all the countries where we have seen the effects of this senseless tradition. We remember our friends in northern Uganda, Sierra Leona, and Liberia, places where we have worked to help reintegrate former child soldiers into society using that ever-powerful, ever-beautiful game.

    It would not have been easy to run a one-day training with many groups, but these coaches from Inder were phenomenal, and we were able to hit the ground laughing and learning. We hope there is more in the future for our two organizations, and we know there is more for CAC and GIP.  Stay tuned to read about how we spent Valentine’s Day in Apartadó – beautiful banana farm country, but an area severely affected by FARC activity and the exploitation of child soldiers.

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  • 2nd Partner Program in Colombia: Working with Club Deportivo Union Cristiano

    The view of the field at the Club Union Deportivo Cristiano stadium

    February 27th, 2012: Medellin, Colombia: Our jaws dropped when we arrived at the Club Deportivo Union Cristiano stadium where we stayed in Bello, Medellin for the last 7 days. Not only is the stadium a state of the art project with a professional size grass field and a synthetic field being developed, but also it is against a backdrop of beautiful mountains, lush vegetation and birds flying high in the blue sky. There were many times during the sessions when Nick and I both found ourselves transfixed by the environment around us because of its beauty and size and because it offered us a view of Medellin and its surrounding neighborhoods.

    On the field we worked with a group of coaches from the Club Deportivo Union Cristiano

    Banner in the entrance of the stadium that includes photos of youth players in the club

    (CDUC). The club works in many sectors of Medellin delivering programs to more than 1,000 children with a staff of 20 employees. Marcos Wittig started the organization in 1991 as a simple neighborhood soccer tournament and since then it has grown to include a year round tournament that includes more than 50 teams, a brownie business venture and the Medellin Sports and Retreat Center on more than 5 acres of land. The club has maintained its focus on offering football as well as guidance to living a life based on Christian values/principles.

    Many of the CDUC coaches that attended the CAC training

    We accompanied some of the coaches to see how they managed their trainings and to take part by teaching some of our games from our CAC Chance to Choice curriculum. Much of the adventure was arriving at the field after long rides up the mountainsides. We were always guaranteed a beautiful view of the city no matter where we landed as well as a group of skilled players who were passionate about playing football. Traveling to the different sites also allowed us to see the many sides of Medellin and through conversation with coaches and our guide Davinci, we learned more about the gang culture and violence that still plagues many of the neighborhoods. Davinci relayed to us a story about a young footballer who recently crossed over into another neighborhood in order to get to his final destination, and was shot simply because he wasn’t from that neighborhood. It is hard to even imagine that scenario when we were told that even for people living in Medellin it is hard to know where one neighborhood ends and the other begins.

    Football vs Football for Social Development

    During our trainings with the coaches we focused on teaching the differences between football development and football for social development. It was very interesting to learn the club’s perspective on their social impact within the community, of which the spiritual aspect is a large component. Many coaches were interested in learning how to teach their players how to think and make quick and good decisions on the field. It presented great opportunity for Nick and I to teach games that required players to make good decisions on the field and then to further connect that ability to a player’s life off the field.

    We finished our training with a session filled with innovative games that stressed teamwork, good choices and problem solving. We were incredibly impressed by the solutions the coaches presented as well as the enthusiasm that some of the more experienced coaches displayed for adapting football for social development into their programs.