From the moment he first began working with young, marginalized youth living on the streets of Turin, Italy, Saint John Bosco understood the transformational power of recreation in their lives. “Let [children] have full liberty to jump, run and shout as much as they please,” he said. “[Sports and other activities] are very effective methods for getting discipline; they favor good living and good health.” Guided by this wisdom, and with the help of a generous benefactor, Salesian missionaries in Guayaquil, Ecuador are extending the positive benefits of sports to some of the area’s most impoverished, at-risk boys and girls.
Twenty-one years ago, missionaries in Ecuador opened the Father Antonio Amador Soccer School as a way to tackle some of the very same challenges identified by their founding father. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city and economic capital, includes some of the country’s poorest communities -- where drug activity, crime and lack of educational access regularly threaten the futures of youth. Not only could soccer offer an effective antidote to idleness and despair, missionaries realized it could also help harness children’s energy in a positive way.
“The sport is fundamental for children’s comprehensive development,” says Ricard Javier Jara Cardoso, one of the school’s instructors. “It’s a great method for social adaptation, and with the intervention of the right individuals where training is concerned, it is a great source of values … helping [youth] overcome their vices and bad habits.”
Carlos Andrés Cobeña Nazareno, 18, agrees. A formerly homeless orphan who arrived at the soccer school after having been severely beaten during a bus ride, he is now poised to graduate from high school ready for the next phase in life. “I learned the values and knowledge I need to prepare myself for the future,” he says. “The soccer school helped me reach a better mental and physical state.”
Currently, 98 girls and boys attend the school. There, through practice and competition, they learn to develop their emotional and learning skills, strengthen their logical capacity, work as a team, tolerate disappointment, and forge healthy peer relationships. Thirty-nine participants hail from other Salesian-run programs in Guayaquil; the rest come from the greater community. Missionaries intend to use a generous donation to subsidize the expenses of even more children.
As with so many Salesian-run sports programs and youth clubs around the world, the Father Antonio Amador Soccer School functions in tandem with other community services. This includes educational and vocational training opportunities, nutrition programs, and sometimes health clinics, that together offer at-risk youth the best chance to reverse their circumstances and build better lives away from the temptations of the streets. Thanks to their experiences in the school, students now view their futures as a wide-open field.
Our mission helps at-risk youth overcome adversity, build self-esteem, and forge positive peer relationships through sports and recreation. What’s your mission?