At the end of June, we met our group of 13 lively students from Leeds university at the airport in Honduras’s capital city, Tegucigalpa. After a weekend of settling in to the sprawling city, The Football Action Honduras project 2013 began on Monday with a visit to Casa Alianza. We were shown around the building that houses, feeds and schools around 120 children from age 12-18, most who were previously living on the streets, with abusive families, or with families unable to provide for them. Many were addicted to glue, alcohol or other drugs before ariving at Casa. Casa provides rehabilitation, education and a second chance for these children.
We were soon introduced to the children who greeted us with smiles, high-fives, and very fast Spanish. We were pleased to see a space for football at the back of the building and as soon as we brought the footballs out, we were introduced to ‘Casa football’ – skilful, quick passes, and rough! Many of the children played in bare feet, and they played hard! It was good to see the girls equalled the boys both in terms of skills and toughness. We spent the afternoon playing 5-a-side, winner-stays-on games, until we were all exhausted.
For the next 2 weeks, a group of us visited Casa each day, running as many football drills we could come up with, playing more 5-a-side games, and at other times, when the children were tired of football or it was too hot, we played uno, chequers, or danced to their favourite Spanish tunes. The volunteers were fantastic with the children, often despite a language barrier, and it was clear the children were enjoying their time with them.
We also spent time at Casa’s other two sites:
Raphael is Casa’s specialist home for boys who had serious addictions and other problems, such as gang-related issues, before coming to the organisation for help. There are 15 boys living there with their teachers. It is set high on a hill looking out over Teguc and this is where the Football Action funded pitch is, and it is clear they are putting it to good use! The other option is a concrete pitch with holes and puddles – we could tell the boys loved playing on the grass pitch and made them feel like real footballers. The boys took to the training drills we set with enthusiasm, and were tireless when it came to playing games, despite the oppressive heat.
They greeted us each day with a drum fanfare, one of the skills they learn at Rafael as part of their rehabilitation programme. The boys were all so welcoming and friendly, and we soon got to know their strong individual characters. Their football skills were impressive too – definitely some future stars in their midst. They already play in a league, and we have high hopes for the future!
Querebines is Casa’s home for girls who have been abused, trafficked, exploited, or forced into prostitution. Around 25 girls live there and undertake a programme of therapy to help them come to terms with what’s happened to them. Again, they showed few signs of their difficult lives and appeared happy and much like other girls of their age. It was inspiring to meet 3 of the girls who were planning to study medicine and psychology at university so that they help other people like them. As part of their education funding project, Football Action is helping to find one of these girls to attend university. Despite their enthusiasm for football, it was difficult to play there due to lack of space, so we helped with other activities such as jewellery making, painting, and games like bingo and chequers.
We also all had the chance to join Casa’s street outreach team for a day in order to understand the children’s situations prior to Casa. The children we met included those cleaning windscreens at traffic lights for 1 limpera a pop (less than 3 pence), children living under the bridges inhaling solvents and glue, gangs of children in arcades, and families with many children living in appalling conditions in makeshift houses. The street outreach team were skilled at engaging the children through games and music and at the same time, finding out about their circumstances and building their trust. They explained its usually a long game and children may eventually decide to come to Casa, but that freedom, drugs and money are often more appealing to them at first. It was distressing to see and an eye-opener for everyone in the group.
The two weeks culminated in a sports day and football tournament for all 170 children at the university pitches, organised and funded by Football Action. It was wonderful to see the children so excited and fired up by the competition. There were teams from Casa, Rafael, Queribines, and of course Football Action.
The Football Action girls team (Pippa, Abby, Lily, Kelly and Vanessa) put up a good fight but were sadly knocked out at the 2nd round. The winners of the girls’ competition were the Casa girls, and in the boys’ competition, the Rafael team won. In an 11-a-side match, the Casa teachers beat the Football Action team in a crushing defeat! The Casa boys team then went on to beat the teachers in a penalty shoot out!
The children clearly had a great day, and it was fantastic to see the children we had now got to know so well not only enjoying themselves, but using skills they had learnt over the two weeks, and giving it their all in the tournament.
The two weeks were over very quickly, and we were sad to leave, but it was great to see that Football Action had made a difference to the children’s lives, in its small way. Our time there also gave us some good ideas for how we can build on the project in future and ensure they can make the most of their pitch. Watch this space…