Fútbol con Corazón, a Colombian initiative, is a social change model that uses soccer’s calling power to transmit basic human values and life skills.
Picture a soccer field where the rules of the game are re-written; where boys and girls play together and re-invent themselves as agents of change. Where matches are won not by the team scoring the most goals, but by the squad that best adheres to fair play agreements. This is Fútbol con Corazón.
When children join Fútbol con Corazón in their neighborhood, they know they won’t be playing “soccer as usual.” The “soccer for peace” methodology calls for mixed girl-boy teams in various age categories, a practice that is unthinkable in the social context in which the children are growing up. Before the match begins, the children themselves negotiate the behaviors to be displayed on the field, and after the game, each team evaluates peer and self-compliance with these agreements. The girls play a vital role, as they must be the ones to score the first goal in the match. No girls, no match.
Fútbol con Corazón began in 2008 in Barranquilla’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, where excessive free time—a result of half-day school schedules—threatens the very fabric of society. Children and youth are prey to recruitment by gangs and irregular armed groups, and into drug traffic and consumption, prostitution and petty crime. The young also must play multiple social roles, including parenting, housekeeping, and other unofficial forms of labor. Fútbol con Corazón is a safe extra-curricular space for more than 2,000 girls, boys and youth in Colombia, where they receive extra nutrition, practice soccer skills, and participate in workshops targeting the development of core life skills in four areas: critical thinking and cognitive skills; coping and self-control; social and moral skills; and communication skills. These life skills are believed to help promote well-being, positive health outcomes, and productive development (Jacobs Foundation, 2011).
The program staff includes physical education and soccer specialists who adapt all training to the program’s core values and methodology. In addition, a group of psychologists uses an experience-based curriculum to reinforce the themes and topics in workshops. Notably, these staff members are not coaches—they are asesores and asesoras (“advisors”); that is, facilitators of learning rather than coaches or teachers. They are consistent role models who develop strong bonds with program beneficiaries and their families.
Our developmentally appropriate model also incorporates workshops on sexual and reproductive health, HIV prevention education, non-violent conflict resolution, substance-free living, and planning for the future. These thematic units aim at defeating myths and gender biases, and empowering participants to make healthy decisions about their own lives. Fútbol con Corazón has worked closely with organizations such as the Jacobs Foundation, Compartamos con Colombia, Beyond Sport, Soccer for Peace Foundation, MEXFAM, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Fe y Alegría, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, the Colombian government, and others to continually monitor and strengthen our programs and our team’s skills. Fútbol con Corazón is often a springboard for employment and higher education, as our “graduates” have attained unique skills and habits that make them attractive to these sectors.
Today, Fútbol con Corazón has operated in nine different locations in the Caribbean region, as well as in pilot programs in conjunction with Colombia’s Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Department of Family Welfare) in Bogotá. Funding comes primarily from corporate sponsors, grants from international development organizations, and individual donations. The group’s work has been recognized by Beyond Sport as the “best organization in sport for social inclusion” (2010) and received the International Prize for Solidarity in Sport by Asociación Deporte, Cultura y Desarrollo, Madrid, 2010. This prize included an all-expenses-paid trip to Spain for seven girls and seven boys from our beneficiary pool.
Currently Fútbol con Corazón leads the Colombian National Network for Soccer and Peace, composed of 12 organizations nationwide committed to social change through soccer, and supported by organizations such as the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF and the German Development Agency GIZ. More than ever, today’s social, public and government sectors have recognized the need to work in tandem to address some of the social ills of our great nation: intractable inequalities, internal strife, and the breakdown of family structures. Fútbol con Corazón can and does “play” a role: our young people come to us to exercise their right to play in peace, learn with peace, and work for peace.