For Cesar Cantancio, a young boy living at the Don Bosco Boys’ Home on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, soccer provided a previously unimaginable opportunity. It helped him to overcome adversity, attend college and build a better life. Today, he directs his life’s passion toward helping other at-risk boys and girls realize the same dream.
The Don Bosco Boys’ Home offers safe shelter, nutritious meals, and basic education for more than 125 youth living in abusive households or on the streets. Athletic development, with a heavy emphasis on soccer, is a key component of this holistic program; boys who demonstrate skill on the field -- and who successfully graduate from high school -- often receive scholarships to one of three local universities with whom the Salesians partner.
Cesar was one such boy. Having never played the game before arriving at the boys’ home, he quickly differentiated himself and earned a varsity spot on its high school team. Four years later, he was playing for the University of Cebu on a full athletic scholarship.
“Widespread poverty across the Philippines means that many families simply cannot afford to send their children to school,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Others are forced to keep their children home, so they can look for work and help earn money. This is why opportunities like those Cesar had are so crucial. They provide an important first step toward breaking the chains of generational poverty and building a brighter future, both individually and for the country as a whole.”
For the past 19 years, Cesar has coached the Madridejos Football Club, a well-regarded provincial powerhouse of a team comprising players from elementary and high schools around the island. Clearly, the soccer team’s impact on at-risk youth is significant.
“The ability to play can secure a decent future for our young players,” Coach Cesar says. “It offers the chance to go to college or even play in the big leagues.”
To this end, the Madridejos FC’s mission, as articulated by Coach Cesar, is three-fold:
- Outreach to local youth (to help them learn about and become interested in the game)
- Opportunities for elementary and high school youth to play soccer while in school (enabling them to learn a valuable skill and become well-rounded individuals)
- Support and training for youth enthusiasts not attending school, but playing soccer on the streets (as a potential pathway back to the classroom and the scholarship opportunities that come with it)
Because his time at Don Bosco Boys’ Home left such an impression on Coach Cesar, he partners closely with his Salesian friends and mentors -- including Father Randy Figuracion of the Salesians of Don Bosco Philippine South province -- to achieve this mission. And the fruits of this partnership are overwhelmingly positive. Just last year, player Elson Dorimon represented the Philippines in the Homeless World Cup in Poland.
Coach Cesar continues to expand the positive impact of soccer to as many impoverished youth as possible. Recently, through Madridejos Football Club‘s ongoing partnership with the Don Bosco Boys’ Home, he organized a soccer clinic and training program for girls living on the streets.
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