Several members of the FC Dallas family are traveling to Brazil this summer to take in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and have agreed to share their experiences with FCDallas.com to give our readers a first-person perspective of the festivities. Today's entry comes from FC Dallas Foundation Director Melissa Reddick, who traveled to Curitiba in conjunction with Lionsraw to do volunteer work in Brazil.
When I was hired four years ago to rebuild the FC Dallas Foundation, I was inundated with calls and emails from international groups wanting to partner in an official capacity. The game of soccer (or football, or futbol) is its own unique international language. It breaks down barriers to facilitate social change. Children will line up for their vaccines when the prospect of playing with an actual ball versus a can or coffee bag appears. So, I knew the Foundation would need to partner with a stable, efficient and effective international organization to make its mark in the world by using sports philanthropy for change.
Through a mutual relationship, I met Jon Burns, founder and visionary of Lionsraw. Based out of the UK, Lionsraw mobilizes soccer enthusiasts to create "Chances for Change" locally and globally in countries that host soccer tournaments such as Poland and South Africa. Their mantra is 'harnessing passion & belief' and they are doing just that on three separate continents right now. When I met Jon and his team three years ago, they were already on the ground in Brazil preparing for the 2014 World Cup, scouting the right legacy project.
Two pieces of Lionsraw that were important for me were first, that they believed in local work as much as global work and second, that they were in a project area building relationships prior to and long after the tournament had ended. This is exactly what makes Lionsraw unique. They are in a country years before their 'legacy tours' begin and stay well after. They build relationships with hosts and organizations on the ground as well as their volunteer base. This year's legacy tour in Brazil brings over 250 volunteers to the Curitiba area.
There are two projects occuring at the same time - the build portion and the football portion. The build project is located in Tangua, north of Curitiba and will provide a community center that will host 500 people a week for education and sports programming. This project began months ago and will be completed in July.
While this is happening, there are three football projects in different favelas around Curitiba. The projects will deliver nine days of community football during June. Each project site has a skilled coach that leads volunteers with a wide range of skills and experiences.
Where does the FC Dallas Foundation come in? Through its Gear Up Project presented by Albertsons, the Foundation donates new and used soccer gear to Lionsraw to be distributed locally as well as globally. The Foundation also partners in local Dallas projects such as a school refurbishment in West Dallas, a number of camps and will be involved in the soccer academies that Lionsraw and another local non-profit, the Fifty-Eight Foundation are establishing to teach leadership through soccer to middle school-aged students.
This year, I joined the volunteer team in Brazil. Arriving in Curitiba last Thursday, I have had the honor of experiencing the other side of the World Cup. It's the side that you don't see while you are watching the chanting crowds and painted faces at the matches all over the country. For the past two days, I served with a team in a small favela north of Curitiba called Almirante Tamandare to lead drills to 30 or so boys from the ages of 5-16. Our community host is the patriarch of the favela, Pastor Rondinely (pronounced Hon-din-eli). Rondinely himself played for a professional club here in Curitiba and has a 16-year-old son in an academy program on the other side of the favela. His English is minimal but we were able to talk about the FCD Academy program and the similarities to his residency.
Not only have my language skills been tested, but my soccer skills as well. I am usually hosting soccer clinics in an administrative capacity and only play the game in the annual staff tournament when some unlucky team of co-workers draws me in the draft.
The boys are so positive, grateful and respectful. They walk in to the pitch shaking every volunteer's hand when they arrive and depart with a handshake, or for me, a kiss on the cheek. There were some incredible skills on the old turf pitch that is completely fenced in with a net roof. It has been 55 degrees out; however, most were in shorts and some played barefoot. The team of volunteers, consisting of Brits and a couple Americans did a wonderful job of engaging the boys.
Most of the volunteers have worked with the kids for a few weeks now, so seeing the relationships between them and the kids that come regularly is touching. Michael, our leader, has a wonderful relationship with the host and speaks incredible Portguese considering he has only been here for two months. I interacted with a number of the kids, but especially a small boy named Andres (right) who played on the side. He was clearly the youngest in age, but not in skill. He would dribble and motion for me to follow. Once after a cartwheel, he looked at me with a challenge in his eyes. Of course, I did it; however, I passed when it came to walking on my hands. Andres was proud of his victory.
Fabian and Rafael (left) are about 9 years old. Clad in matching outfits of green and gold, they played in the morning and the afternoon sessions with bare feet. Their sweet smiles quickly turned serious when they took on me and another volunteer with their long spider-like legs. They dominated.
The first work day was spent coaching the two sessions on the pitch; however, the field was being used on the next work day so we spent the day at the church that Rondinely runs. After a positive message from Rondinely, we played FIFA, table tennis and hosted a round of soccer/bible trivia. I had brought a bunch of FCD gear along with me and the boys were excited to receive jerseys, hats, bags and tees. The kids are just happy to have this group of engaged adults to play with each day.
Today is a day off since Brazil is playing. I'll head to the stadium to see the Spain-Australia match before joining a watch party for the Brazil match. The Ecuador-Honduras game was an amazing experience on Friday. I'm sure today will be no less. I do have a feeling that watching the Brazil game surrounded by Brazilians will over shadow the in-stadium experience. The city is abuzz and feels like a holiday.