Julianex lives in Peru, where, amongst other things, he volunteers for an association that helps street kids in Lima. He joins Expatclic with this interesting article where he tells us about his volunteering experience.
If you are visiting Peru and use Lima as a stop-off point on the way to Cusco, chances are your experience of the city will be limited to the Plaza de Armas and its environs, the restaurants of Miraflores and the villas of Barranco. Your exposure to the plight of street children in Lima will probably be limited to the waifs competing with the jugglers and street vendors vying for your attention on the roadside at every intersection.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that, in Lima, the problem of children fending for themselves on the streets is considerable. Some 14% of the population of Peru live in extreme poverty, the equivalent of approximately 3 and a half million people, of whom 2 million are between 6 and 17. In Lima alone it has been estimated that between 1500 and 2000 children in this age range are living on the street at any one time. This phenomenon is a consequence of the mass migrations into Lima’s outlying barrios from other parts of the country, the resulting cycle of poverty and dysfunctional family environments. Often these circumstances give rise to child maltreatment and abuse, and the only place the child has left to retreat, is the street. The street, of course, offers still more poverty, the temptation of drugs and more violence.
When I arrived in Lima just over a year ago, I had a very vague notion of helping “Peru” with its manifold and frequently unacknowledged social problems. The task of converting this hazy intent into something more concrete was made easier when I met David Moore, one of the co-founders and the Medical Director of a Programme called LimaKids. Affiliated with the Asociación Benéfica Prisma, a Peruvian ONG which concerns itself with helping the poor and vulnerable help themselves, the LimaKids Soccer League Project was initiated in 2004. It was an idea conceived as a means of addressing the mental health and developmental issues facing institutionalised children in Lima, using football as a medium. The current Campeonato is the 4th and the project has grown over the past three years to include 14 homes or orphanages, 32 teams and over 1000 children, 400 of whom are girls. LimaKids has also branched out to the realm of health care and runs a weekly Outreach Health Clinic for children off the streets based in El Agustino.
However, as I’m not a GP, have no medical skills whatsoever save administering a band-aid, and have been known to play a bit of football in my time, it seemed that my natural fit might be as a team coach in the Liga, so I offered my services. Now I’ve coached some tennis in my dim and distant past, but that was in English, at a privileged camp for Long Islanders in upstate New York, and tended to be only five or six kids at a time. The prospect of meeting, coaching and in any way controlling between 10 and 12 troubled teenage Peruvian girls in my fledgling Spanish was at best, daunting. Fortunately, Dave selected for me a house called DOMI; a quiet, shy, retiring group of girls, desperate to learn, eager to please. Well actually… not as such…
As a means of attempting to acquaint myself with the rudiments of football coaching for kids, I took to researching books and internet sites with suggested drills, preparation of facilities and methods of maintaining discipline. I soon realised however, that the normal rules of football management don’t tend to apply in the context of a care home in Lima, where the girls are not allowed out of the complex for fear they will return to the “freedom” of the street. The first problem that this posed was that I was working with up to 14 girls on what was effectively a concrete volleyball court. The second problem arose at my second training session when I discovered that the volleyball court had been turned into a building site and I was to make do with an area the size of a patio in front of a garage door skirted with building rubble. The handbooks pointed out that the first task of the football coach is to clear the training area of potential hazards… somewhat challenging on a building site.
But also, the coaching manuals fail to advise a course of action when confronted with a girl who has outstretched forearms bloodied from self-inflicted wounds, or the sight of a girl being restrained by three or four people to try to prevent her harming herself. In many ways, the girls I coach are like any other teenagers; they are needy of affection, appreciation and praise. But their neediness tends to be more extreme as, in such circumstances, self-esteem is so low. They look out for each other, as they don’t have anyone else they can trust. One of the most important benefits of the intervention is that someone is making time to go in to their home and is taking an active interest in them.
I have coached the girls over a period of two and a half months, twice a week, with match days every other Saturday. The matches are played at a venue high in the cerros behind the once grand, now sadly neglected district of Rimac, surrounded by Lima’s trademark dusty grey cliffs onto which the most enterprising of builders have somehow attached equally dusty grey outlying living quarters. The games are structured to promote sportsmanship. Teams earn points for goals, but equally important they earn points if they shake hands with their opponent, avoid aggression and foul language, and if all team members participate in the games.
The coaching experience for me has generally been a positive one. The girls have been variously endearing, deeply irritating and very funny. The personalities of the girls differ widely. Some are incessantly cheeky, whilst others utterly lack self-confidence and actively seek encouragement on a regular basis. The quality of their football has gradually improved, although they are still terrible; but they clearly enjoy the training sessions, and one of the most rewarding things for me is the sound of laughter which now regularly emanates from the playing concrete. Girls who at the outset showed no interest whatsoever in getting involved are now joining in on account of the good time clearly being had by the others.
LimaKids as an intervention claims to help alleviate mental health problems, instil the benefits of a team environment, provide positive role models where they are in short supply, improve interpersonal skills and build self-esteem. My experience is that it goes some way to achieving these, but I have seen it provide other benefits besides. The girls of DOMI will probably not win a game in the League. They may not even score a goal, but I have seen a change in body language between their appearance in the first game, and their attitude, posture and smiles as we near the end of the season. They are having a great time, and for me, that is the whole point of the exercise.
Many of the results of the LimaKids project are immeasurable in the short-term, such as providing children with an outlet from the stagnant life within the poorly funded homes, and imparting them with a sense of self-worth. One particularly valuable outcome has been that some children choose to remain in the orphanages, instead of returning to the streets or to abusive homes, in order to continue participating in the football tournament.