Nestled snugly at the foothills of the stunning Santa Marta mountains, fringed with picture perfect sandy beaches, Santa Marta is a city to touch your soul. A melting pot of thriving locals and laden with both indigenous and colonial history, tourists scale the globe to taste it's splendours.
The traditional lifeblood that beats through Santa Marta and captivates it's residents are succint: music and football. Despite a population of 400,000 and being the home of football greats like ‘El Pibe’ Carlos Valderrama, Santa Marta has very few actual football pitches.
Football driving community spirit
In the most vulnerable of communities, the locals turned empty plots of land into mini dirt football pitches. It’s at these pitches that families meet, and it’s here that the community spirit is built; this no more so than in the case of La Lucha, one of the most challenging neighbourhoods in Santa Marta.
Families thrown from their homes during the 52 year war were looking for a place to simply survive when they settled in La Lucha - it's very name meaning 'The Fight.'
Turning a mountain of dust and rubbish into a community with improvised houses made of plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic, the neighbourhood has its fair share of violence. More recently though, it has been the main stage for showing how the passion of football can be the motor for social transformation towards peaceful coexistence.
With a massive effort, the community has managed to build a football pitch, and Fundación Tiempo de Juego began working tirelessly to promote social inclusion and peace right there on the pitch. What started with an informal football match on a dusty pitch with a cloth ball, has been transformed into training sessions with more than 150 boys, girls and teenagers excited about the opportunity to have a better future. And, simply, to play football with their friends.
Tiempo de Juego is a Colombian organisation that teaches children and adolescents from vulnerable communities life skills through sports, cultural and recreational activities. The training that Tiempo de uego provides is help the young create their own life projects and promoting a movement towards peace, equality and coexistence.
After two years of hard work, the children as well as adults recognise the powerful transformation the Tiempo de Juego has brought to the lives of the people in the neighbourhood. These improvements are helping people of all ages to have positive ambitions, and to make those ambitions a reality.
Activities in La Lucha are constantly evolving to respond to the community’s demands and progress. For example, fifteen children are enrolled in the Leadership School. This inititative seeks to form community leaders, working to develop new ways of using sports for development and to become agents of change in their neighbourhood.
These young leaders, who were previously profiled as problem children in the neighbourhood, today are the protagonists of positive change.
One such young leader is Jhan. After the death of his father at age 16, Jhan fell into alcohol and bad company, leaving behind his responsibilities, dreams and friends. Today, he is one of the most dedicated leaders. He is a role model at the Leadership School and has represented Tiempo de Juego and Colombia in the International Street Football Festival.
Transformation can also be evidenced in Onehis, another of Tiempo de Juego’s most collaborative leaders. He used to be one of the most aggressive and violent young people. His willingness to change allowed him to participate in the Leadership School and he is now a reference for his peers. He has learnt to manage his emotions and use his energy to motivate and encourage his peers.
The effect that this methodology is bringing to the neighbourhoods extends beyond the pitch; it is being absorbed into home life. Parents have noticed improved relationships, better communication and more peaceful and creative ways of resolving conflicts.
Together, football is scoring goals for Peace in Colombia.