I met with a US team to conduct the launching of an inaugural ceremony for a soccer tournament that runs throughout the spring – you can read about this project here. The tournament was created to bring together indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities with the Colombian Military and local police units to address some of the major issues in the region.
Children from these communities are constantly trafficked into local gangs or criminal organization such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or National Liberation Army (ELN). To counter these organizations, the Colombian government created a campaign called “Fe en Colombia.” Some of the programs offered in Fe En Colombia are designed to deter recruitment and illegal activity through recreational and cultural activities.
The US advisors and their Colombian partners identified 10 areas that traffic children the most. These areas have been FARC and ELN strongholds due to a lack of state presence and difficult terrain that isolates these communities. The Colombian government, military, and police, with support from US Civil Affairs and SoA will host a soccer match in each of these locations encouraging the local families to come out and participate. I had an opportunity to meet with the community planner, Gilberto Ibarra, and he said,
“Sunday is the best day for the tournament because the whole community attends. It’s a good way to get the family involved and for them to show support to these programs. It’s important to keep the kids involved so they can continue doing something good instead of running around doing something they will regret later in life.”
Unfortunately, some of these areas have not seen military and police forces regularly except during counter-gang/FARC/ELN operations. These recreational activities give school-aged children an opportunity to be in contact with security forces and allow them to interact and build confidence in a positive, informal setting. Community programs like the soccer tournament give the children hope, direction, and role models to look up to.
The inaugural ceremony was a success. A local band and the teams marched through the town in celebration of the event and kicked off the first game on the Colombian military base – the first time the indigenous tribe called “Nasa’s Piez” ever set foot on this soil. The soccer teams were extremely grateful for their uniforms and will continue the tournament into the spring. It’s because of your generous donation that our US troops were able to organize this event.
The greatest thanks goes to our supporters who donate and assist our troops in some of the world’s toughest environments. It’s because of people like you, people who see a need to help our military to build relationships and assist the local population to live a better life, that we can ultimately make each place better one project at a time. Thank you again for your generous and selfless support.
Project Manager, Latin America