How Soccer (Futbol) Can Save the World

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While governments and corporations have sunk millions of dollars in educating the world about HIV/AIDS, one Pittsburgher, Justin Forzano, has led the Cameroon Football Development Program (CFDP) to apply a different kind of prevention: education through soccer clubs. 

We have all heard of the benefits of participating in team sports: teamwork, leadership skills, and self-confidence. Combine those benefits with group discussions and mentoring opportunities and you have a strong strategy to making an impact on a country that has been heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Cameroon Football Development Program was founded in Spring 2010 by Peter Ngwane and Justin Forzano. Although an uncommon approach, bringing something as natural as soccer together with something so practical, like disease prevention, has had a huge impact on the community of Kumba, Cameroon. Like many developing countries, Cameroon suffers from a variety of issues like corruption, poverty, the implications of its colonial history and a strong nationwide desire to “get out” and find better opportunities. This exodus of talent is known as “brain drain,” the flight of able, intelligent youth in search of better opportunities abroad. The communities left behind deal with skill gaps, fragmentation within their community, and create the right conditions for significant community decline. CFDP’s model is designed to change all of that.Image

Through partnering with local volunteers and identifying key community leaders, CFDP works with Kumba to provide a variety of programs: Leadership Training, After School Programs, a Youth League, and Girls Soccer Camps, in addition to a variety of special events. This year alone, they have involved over 500 youths in the area and engaged with regional organizations like United Action for Children, Play Soccer International, to expand their programs to other regions of the country.

But how does an engineering student from the University of Dayton get involved with helping the community of Kumba in distant Africa? It all started with a summer study abroad trip with his professor and a deep love for soccer. “From the first time I visited Kumba, I fell in love with Cameroon. The people, the culture, the food, the music and the importance of soccer.” Justin’s first visit to Cameroon demonstrated to him just how the United States has such excess, especially when it came to equipment for sports. “We were playing a game of football (soccer) on a dirt field and the locals were either sharing boots, playing with flip flops, or even without shoes. In the U.S. we just throw away these things even if they are in good shape.” Dealing with such an impression, Justin began asking how to connect those in Cameroon with those who have excess equipment in the United States. The following summer, Justin went back with a full set of jerseys and was met with wild enthusiasm in Kumba. Five years later, the set is still intact and is being passed around from club to club. 

What can be the most complicated obstacle for start-up nonprofits; can be making the link between the local community and the recipient community.  CFDP overcomes this obstacle by sticking to their mainstay: soccer. On the first weekend of August, they kicked off their fall season of Pittsburgh based fundraising events with a soccer tournament at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of learning lawn. With 9 teams participating, CFDP not only organized a fun Sunday tournament, but involved the local Cameroonian-American and African-American communities with kicking off the event with a drumming performance and authentic Cameroonian food.

Even if you were not able to attend their soccer tournament, CFDP has a variety of ways in which you can get involved. Whether it is sponsoring a team or participating in the Play for a Purpose program, check out http://www.cameroonfdp.com/ or follow them @CameroonFDP. 

 

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The importance of having Faith

The other night,  I had a conversation with my devout Catholic father about why more young people were not involved in the church. He initially pointed to video games and movies and the rush of our modern day lives. The more we talked and the more I thought about it the more I kept thinking about how lonely it can be in your 20’s. 

When our parents were our age they had the house, the kids, the family near by because no one ever left, and the worship or school community where they could commiserate with other burnt out parents. Despite the flaws of religious institutions and the harm many have inflicted on members of the community, nothing has the gathering force of a well supported place of worship. In all of these ways it was less common for our parents to experience feelings of isolation and lonliness, because they had no choice but to be surrounded by the nosy neighbors or the very involved community members.

While I loved living in Pittsburgh, feeling close to a community was what I was missing. This whole time that I’ve been in Florida I’ve taken notice of how being home is not as suffocating as it used to be or as restricting. Going out of my comfort zone is what I needed at the time. I needed to learn about what I wanted out of life and truly destroy who I was before and grow into the adult I need to be. I’m still not sure what that looks like, but that’s just part of the adventure. Being able to be at my childhood church has contributed to creating that sense of community.  Where do you go to find that sense of community?

Life: It’s Like an Outdoor Shower

They say that in times of transition that we learn the most about ourselves. I think its mostly because we are caught in our most vulnerable state, like bathing in an outdoor shower. You’re outside, so its out of your (and society’s) comfort zone and feels a bit risque, but yet so nice to bask in your vulnerability. The more you let go and enjoy the freedom, the closer you dance with the danger of being caught by a passersby, or unsuspecting comrade. If you are caught in this excruciatingly mortifying predicament, you find yourself making a crash landing back to reality and become acutely aware of your surroundings. Once you recover from complete mortification, you try to grasp at whatever reverie you were in because you were on the brink of some wonderful revelation.

That whole process, though painful for the psyche and the accidental Peeping Tom, is how I have sort of felt after each transition: graduating from college, graduating from graduate school, and accepting the fact that I was unhappy with where my life was, etc. I would find myself lost in the calamity that is the ending of a phase, only to be left with the acute awareness of the beauty and the foul nature of our reality. For example, when I completed graduate school I was completely overwhelmed with the opportunities and the deeply held belief that I could single-handedly be involved in “saving the world,” but I was also overwhelmed by the possibility of becoming a complete failure left to live off the streets for the rest of my days.

But as I have been navigating this current transition, the quote from the great philosopher Epictetus continues to come to mind: It is not what happens to you, but how you react that matters. You’ve gotta trust a man that was once a slave, then became a philosopher, and then was banished when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges… and if he was able to focus on the present, then why can’t I?

I, as well as the rest of my type-A peers, get so wrapped up in “the plan” and when things don’t follow it exactly, we feel like the world is crashing in on our outdoor shower. How have we let ourselves see these “bumps in the road” as negative and wrong, when really – it’s just life? If we just embraced ourselves —childhood battle scars, muffin tops, and all— for who we are, would we be able to see through these catastrophes and see them for what they are: unfortunate events? Well, while you scramble for a towel, I’m going to practice flaunting and celebrating the spontaneous for it is a practiced skill, not a talent.

Pictures from: 

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