The beautiful game is saving vulnerable children in Colombia from an ugly future.
Hundreds of boys and girls in the cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena are escaping the lures of gang life, violence, drugs and crime by taking up football.
Tearfund partner Red Viva Colombia is working with local churches and youth groups to run 30 sports clubs offering football training sessions and tournaments for seven to 15-year-olds.
As well as providing a safe environment, something that’s much needed in a country where children as young as seven have been encouraged to join gangs, the youngsters learn life-skills at the sessions which take place out-of-school hours.
They also work with a personal mentor and take part in classes looking at health education, human rights, social issues, preventing violence and how to resolve conflict – all within a caring Christian setting.
Joining such a club has filled a big hole in the life of nine-year-old Luis. When flooding wrecked homes belonging to poor families in his town, many of his friends’ families moved to new areas.
Without his mates, Luis felt isolated and lonely and became disinterested in school, but hearing about Red Viva’s Sports for Life initiative sparked his interest.
Going along to a session, he was surprised that children he’d never met before were so friendly and allowed him to train with them. Coaches also invited him to be part of a team.
The club has had a transformative influence on Luis, reinvigorating his school attendance and academic performance. His newfound love of football is pushing him onto represent his school in a local championship.
There are many children like Luis who need such a healthy and stable environment to develop, according to Rosa Camargo de Bravo, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Colombia.
‘Young people and adolescents from marginal areas of the cities are exposed to many risks such as gangs, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and drug addiction,’ said Rosa.
‘The football project brings vulnerable young people into an engaging activity, hosted in a safe space, with a mentor and education. It’s proving an appealing package that’s providing many children with hope and a new outlook of a better future.