Twenty years of using football to change lives

NGO Management

by Rosa Camargo de Bravo.

Young people and adolescents from disadvantaged areas of the city of Medellín in Colombia are exposed to many risks. These include enrolment into illegal armed groups, injury, death, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and natural disasters.

Young footballers at Club Deportivo. Their football kits say ‘Jesus is Lord’. Photo: Club Deportivo
Young footballers at Club Deportivo. Their football kits say ‘Jesus is Lord’. Photo: Club Deportivo

Since 1989, the year Footsteps began, Club Deportivo – a Christian non-governmental organisation – has worked with children and young people from some of the most dis­advantaged areas of Medellín. Through sport and recreation (principally football), psycho­­logical support, mentoring, aca­demic support and a con­stant pro­motion of Biblical principles these young people are offered an alter­native to violence and delinquency and are helped to resolve their con­flicts in more approp­riate ways.  

Reaching children

Football is an effective way into the lives of children and young people. They are much more likely to attend a sporting event than a workshop or seminar. Because of the cultural importance of football, Club Deportivo has never had any problems gaining the acceptance, attention and respect of young people, their families, the state and community organisations. Over the years some of the players have gone on to become leaders, trainers and evangelists in their own neighbourhoods. 

Club Deportivo promotes equal rights for men and women. As a result, in the neighbour­hoods in which they work women are now given more respect, par­ticularly when they are using public facilities such as football grounds and taking part in organised sporting events.

Many of the organisation’s staff live in the same neighbourhoods as the bene­ficiaries – some used to be beneficiaries themselves – which ensures a constant presence and deep understanding of local needs and issues.

Future plans

Building on the experience already gained, Club Deportivo is planning to spend the next three years focusing on helping 1,200 children and young people from 15 disadvantaged areas of Medellín to reduce the risks that they face every day by living a life more grounded in biblical principles.

Experienced sports coaches and evangelists will develop a programme of sports activities, such as training sessions, football games and tournaments. There will also be opportunities for the children and young people to go on recreational camps and attend ‘cultural peace afternoons’ during which they will enjoy table games, live music and other entertainment. Each event will include times of prayer and short evangelistic talks.

Relationship building and one-to-one mentoring are central to the project, along with home visits. A teacher will be available to help the children achieve better marks at school. A psychologist will help them with any other issues that they might have, such as recuperation from trau­matic experiences. Local church leaders will also be involved on a voluntary basis.

During training sessions the following topics will be covered: conflict resolution, the con­sequences of breaking the law, domes­tic vio­lence, political actions avail­able to civil society, disaster pre­ven­­­tion, gender equity, sexual and repro­ductive health, HIV, integral mission and restora­tive justice.

Through a campaign of public awareness, churches and other organisations present in the area will be encouraged to analyse the issues in their communities and get involved in development activities, working together to make the greatest difference possible.

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