Did you read Eduardo’s inspiring story in our Christmas Appeal?
This blog article contains his explanation of how participating in football classes run by our partner Tiempo de Juego helped him to transform not only his own life but also the futures of other young people in this community.
My name is Eduardo*. I am 20 years old now. In November 2006 I arrived in Bogotá after moving around and living in a few different places. I grew up in a beautiful town called Sonsón in the east of the Antioquia region of Colombia, but I had to leave to escape the violence and cruelty that I found myself immersed in there. There were a lot of reasons why I felt the need to get out – forced recruitment, gangs, drugs and a lack of positive opportunities.
When I arrived in Colombia’s capital, the environment I was faced with did not offer me much hope or encouragement. I came up against a lot of difficulties and I kept thinking that however hard I tried to escape, my life was bound to repeat the same old story – I’d join a gang, get involved in drugs and crime, and end up either in jail or in the cemetery.
I arrived in Bogotá a few days before my thirteenth birthday. Although I was young, I had already experienced many things that other kids only begin to discover when they are older; I knew a lot about how the world worked. On 24th January 2007, I signed up to attend Fundación Tiempo de Juego which, at that time, was only just starting out. On 27th January 2007, I attended my first ever football training session there. I had never trained before. Back then I was one of just 40 kids who would go along every Saturday to take part in training sessions. Even though we barely had enough materials or resources we were so eager to learn and to move forward with our lives.
Our motivation grew and grew. What really made me happy was to see smiles on the faces of the other children, many of whom did not have anything to eat or the chance to study and who were exposed to the dangers of the street on a daily basis. I saw a total change; they stopped fearing the challenges facing them and began to dream more and more of a brighter future for themselves. This change in the children enabled Tiempo de Juego to progress as an organisation – they secured a permanent base to run their projects from, a football pitch, football training materials, a bus to transport the children safely around our neighbourhood and much more! All these thing we have gained prove that when you fight to get what you want, while always thinking of others, you can achieve your goals and build a better tomorrow!
Football became my life. Every time that I arrived at Tiempo de Juego and kicked a ball I stopped caring about all my problems, I just completely forgot about them. The ball was my friend and my team mates were my family. After a few years, and a lot of hard work and development, the staff at Tiempo de Juego put me forward for the position of ‘Monitor’. The role meant I was responsible for passing on what I had learned to other children, not just football skills but also the values that my time at Tiempo de Juego had instilled in me. This opportunity enabled me to grow and to pass on my new-found confidence to the younger children and help them to avoid repeating the too-familiar pattern of addiction, robbery, gang membership etc.
I always liked to see the kids laughing, singing, having fun and forgetting the worries that weighed them down in their day-to-day lives. Some days they would not be able to eat, they did not go to school, they could not even dream of a better life – seeing their immediate needs was what drove my desire to change the destructive reality that surrounded them. I wanted to help their generation construct a more positive future for themselves and I felt a responsibility to them because I was their role model, I was proof that they could change their lives for the better. I always teach them to value what they have, to have pride in themselves, to study, and to dream. Dreaming is the most important thing of all. I always tell them that. It is what Andres Wiesner, who founded Tiempo de Juego, once taught me and it is an idea that has been reinforced by everyone who is part of the organisation. If you plant a seed of hope, if you really believe in change and if you visualise it happening, then it will happen, a tree will grow and it will bear fruit. These fruit represent a fresh start and their seeds will spread and transform whole communities. This is what the team of Tiempo de Juego youth leaders are achieving now; the changes are amazing.
Later, I went on to become a Group Coordinator which has been a wonderful experience. I have trained up new Monitors who have helped more and more children to learn how to dream. It is always a difficult journey, but never impossible – that’s what we always make sure the children understand. My next step was to become a Community Supervisor. My community and the children who live there expect a lot from me now and I have to be extremely thorough and careful in my work, but I am achieving extraordinary things. My achievements are mutually beneficial to me and to those I work with and I am playing an important role in strengthening whole communities.
There are a lot of stories and experiences that I could talk about, but the most important thing to say is that a person can do anything if they really want it, if they are able to dream of a better future. When I was young I could not study at all, I thought it was impossible because of all the obstacles I came up against. But now I am at university, in the fourth semester of a Sport and Recreation course at Universidad Santo Tomas in Bogotá. It’s all thanks to Tiempo de Juego who got me a grant from Adidas that fully covers the cost of my studies. I thank God every day for this achievement. Now I am thinking big – I want to finish my degree here and then move to Europe to study a 2-year technical course in professional football. It’s in moments like this, with my life as it is now, that you can really understand that nothing is impossible in this life – if you dream and fight for your rights every day you can make anything happen.
For now, I am helping to increase Tiempo de Juego’s influence by working to set up a relationship between the Fundación and my university that will benefit and fulfil the dreams of many children who want to study but have never had the chance.
*Name has been changed to protect participant’s identity.