Despite Controversy at FIFA, Children's Love of Football Remains

Duncan McCullough

Football, or soccer, is about the love of a game.  The ball bounces unpredictably, and millions of us chase after it with joy and skill.

Despite recent controversy at its governing body - FIFA,  football at its core is still a beautiful game. It provides an opening that is especially hard to create in many of the world’s most challenging communities.  Bonds over the sport are strong, and are setting the foundation for a diverse number of education services and programs. 

The Kibera Girls Soccer Academy Foundation started in 2002 when Kibera’s own Abdul Kassim founded a girls’ soccer team.  The need for engagement, physical development, and emotional support for girls in Kibera’s slums was great, and it took time to overcome parental opposition.  The team continued to grow nevertheless, and expanded into a school in 2006.  The academy still aids girls’ physical development on the soccer pitch, but now offers a comprehensive curriculum designed to prepare the girls for success.  Not only are the girls’ skills on the pitch sharper every day, but the school provides useful trainings and sustainable employment opportunities to bring residents into the game.  Community engagement has increased the Academy’s sustainability, and soccer was the first step.

In Colombia, displaced communities like Altos de Cazucá and Cartagena where Tiempo de Juego operates are among the most low-income, marginalized, and violent in the country.  To counter these daily barriers, the group employs a “Fútbol para la Paz”, or Football for Peace, method.  With each kick and sprint, students build up skills in cooperation, critical thinking, and confidence.  Education budgets for these areas have been slashed, but Tiempo de Juego is increasing its impact while remaining free for all participants. 

In India the Yuwa: Kicking it New School program uses soccer to empower girls and combat child marriage, illiteracy, and human trafficking.  Yuwa soccer teams are self-initiated, peer-led, and designed to encourage financial saving and planning, among other valuable practical skills.  When they’re not dribbling on the field, girls are attending daily English, math, and science classes.  A soccer ball paired with a tablet is proving to be an effective combination.

Mathare, Kenya is an informal settlement where 900,000 people live.  Most of these residents are fans of football, and over 25,000 have participated in matches or other community development activities for the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA).  MYSA is growing sustainably by empowering participants, training volunteers for leadership positions, and rewarding all with acknowledgement and incentives.  With plans for greater expansion in place, increased access once again is following the quick determined steps of football players.

You’ll have to forgive all of the soccer puns, but the excitement of these programs is easy to embody.  After recent revelations of football twisted for personal ends, positive football-related stories are as refreshing as an orange slice at halftime. 

As for the FIFA investigations, the final whistle is far from blowing, but these organizations, and the children they serve, show no sign of slowing down.

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