Friday 22 February 2019, 03:32

Colombianitos Foundation: Supporting vulnerable youngsters through football

  • Colombianitos Foundation using football as an educational tool

  • Through FIFA Foundation backing they are impacting the lives of kids across Colombia

  • Organisation working to build leadership skills in young people

When the children, hailing from 22 state schools in Bogota, arrived at the pitch, they thought they would be taking part in just another competition. The organisers had a surprise in store for them, however, mixing them all up to form new teams and then sending them out to play and to learn, particularly the latter.

The tournament was just one of the many activities that the Colombianitos Foundation organises through its Goals for a Better Life programme, which uses football as an educational tool to aid the social development of Colombian girls and boys.

The young people they help come mostly from disadvantaged areas where extreme violence, alcohol and drugs are all part of everyday life.

“Football is a very powerful tool,” Marcela Chaves, director of operations at Colombianitos, told

“They face situations of vulnerability and that makes them very tense,” she added. “They have responsibilities that they shouldn’t have. They encounter real passion in football and it gives them a chance to see that they can improve their lives.”

The young people who took part in that competition in Bogota learned how to get on with one another and to negotiate, by deciding on the rules, picking the teams and deciding who played where. And they did it all peacefully, without any fighting or arguing.

“We operate in the educational environment because there’s a very pressing need for youngsters to get on better with each other at school,” explained Chaves. “Football enables teachers to shape the way they think. It makes them less violent and helps them to come together.”

Training leaders with the help of the FIFA Foundation

Operating in 17 urban and rural municipalities across Colombia, in areas where youngsters are most vulnerable, the Foundation runs initiatives that provided support to more than 25,000 young people in 2018. One of these initiatives is the Young Agents of Change Project, which has the backing of the FIFA Foundation.

As part of the project, the organisation selects between seven and 15 youngsters from each of the municipalities where it is present. Chosen on the basis of their leadership qualities, they develop those skills through 3football, the methodology used by FIFA.

“Matches have three ‘halves’,” explained Chaves. “There’s a pre-match discussion in which we reveal what we’re going to work on, followed by the game itself and then the post-match discussion, which is where the teaching element comes in. That’s where the children learn so they can change.”

The leaders, who receive support in creating their own life projects and university grants, have obligations to fulfil.

“The key thing is for them to be role models for other young people,” said Chaves. “They need to use sport as a means to promote social skills in their community.”

In schools, teachers bring these leaders in contact with other children who have a positive influence on their peers, and they all get together with the most problematic children and engage in joint training sessions. An external evaluation then assesses which youngsters have made the most progress.

Football winning the battle

One of the leaders rescued by the Colombianitos programme is Juan Carlos Castro, an ex-militiaman with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a group that was one of the main players in the armed conflict that ravaged the country for more than half a century.

Castro participated in workshops as part of the 80 hours of community service he was required to do after giving up his weapons. Forging ties with the young people he came into contact with, he decided to help them escape the influence of gangs and drugs.

“The chats he gives in schools, telling young people about his experiences, are really useful for us,” said Chaves. “Puerto Tejada is a town close to Cali and there’s a lot of violence there. One or two young people are killed every week and the help he gives is absolutely crucial there.”

“I fought the guerrillas when I was a professional soldier and when I was a militiaman,” said Castro, as reported by La Última, a newspaper in Puerto Tejada. “We were sworn enemies. But I’ve met some of them through the football, peace and reconciliation programme and we’ve become friends. It just goes to show that football brings people together.”

The Colombianitos Foundationis one of a number of organisations supported by theFIFA Foundation's Community Programme.