• Moving Forward

    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.”

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  • 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!

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