LIFESTYLE

Colombian Youth Choose Soccer over Violence

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 03:  Children play soccer in the recently "pacified" Santa Marta, one of Rio's oldest slums, or favela on December 3, 2009 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Santa Marta is one of a number of Favelas in Rio where the police are attempting a softer touch by participating in community policing after they clear the area of drug gangs. It is believed that the police want to continue with these programs citywide ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games. As Brazil prepares to host the 2016 Summer Olympics international scrutiny is falling on Rio de Janeiro`s favelas where over 5,000 people were murdered  last year alone. In the last week violence in tourist areas has increased as drug gangs are increasingly reacting to an increased police presence in the favelas. In figures released Tuesday by the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) statistics agency it was found that an average of 68 young Brazilian men died violently each day between 1998 and 2008. These numbers included murder, traffic accidents and gang violence involving the police.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 03: Children play soccer in the recently "pacified" Santa Marta, one of Rio's oldest slums, or favela on December 3, 2009 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Santa Marta is one of a number of Favelas in Rio where the police are attempting a softer touch by participating in community policing after they clear the area of drug gangs. It is believed that the police want to continue with these programs citywide ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games. As Brazil prepares to host the 2016 Summer Olympics international scrutiny is falling on Rio de Janeiro`s favelas where over 5,000 people were murdered last year alone. In the last week violence in tourist areas has increased as drug gangs are increasingly reacting to an increased police presence in the favelas. In figures released Tuesday by the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) statistics agency it was found that an average of 68 young Brazilian men died violently each day between 1998 and 2008. These numbers included murder, traffic accidents and gang violence involving the police. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

In Altos de Cazuca, a shantytown in Bogotá, Colombia known for its violent criminal activity, children are choosing soccer balls over guns, thanks to a program by non-profit, Tiempo de Juego.

Tiempo de Juego, or "game time" in English, is an organization established in 2006 as a project for the Communication for Development program by the Universidad de la Sabana in Bogotá.  After three years of studying the Cazuca slums, it became apparent that the two main contributing factors to violence in the area were the youth's lack of education and excess free time. Gang activity, rape, murder, drug trafficking, and early pregnancies are all prevalent problems in the neighborhood.

"I realized that kids had too much free time and this made them vulnerable and easily recruited by gangs and paramilitary groups," said Tiempo de Juego founder, Andres Wiesner in an interview with Al Jazerra. "We understood that occupying their free time with football [soccer] and the arts would be the best instrument to move them away from the evils of the neighborhood."

These days, children as young as five and teenagers up to the age of 18, have other options. Tiempo de Juego established a community center where classes in art, cinema, computers, crafts, music, literature and dance take place. The professional soccer field, as well as free cleats and uniforms for players, has attracted over 700 youth who play on teams. According to the Tiempo de Juego website, the foundation uses the Football for Peace methodology which, while teaching soccer skills, seeks to instill values such as solidarity, fair play, team work, gender equity, winning with humility, accepting defeat with dignity, tolerance and respect.

"If they changed their gun for a ball, then everybody can do it," said Cazuca resident Julio Pinilla, gesturing toward children wearing soccer uniforms. 

"And if we all do it," Pinilla continued, "Cazuca as a whole can change."

Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.

 

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