Asociación Civil El Samán
Our first major project funding was awarded to Asociación Civil El Samán, a community group that recognises the benefits to be gained from sports education and participation for those children who cannot normally access sports facilities. These community workers have witnessed the amazing benefits of sport to the children and also to the wider community and so have now forged a charity with the specific purpose of nurturing social development by broadening access to sport, with participation by children from the shanty towns.
In poor districts in urban Venezuela, people live in very cramped conditions with little in the way of local, community facilities and services. One of the direct results is that children only have the streets and external, connecting staircases of their hilly communities to play in, spaces which are inherently limiting. All too often a significant proportion of the children turn to, or are caught up in, gangs and violence for their 'entertainment'.
In some communities where there are public sports courts, these spaces are often dominated by older groups of youths and in the worst of cases by gangs. The courts sometimes function as informal "offices" of the gangs, which either excludes younger children from being able to use the courts or exposes them to the gangs and puts them in danger of following suit. Basketball and baseball are very popular national sports (although football is currently "a la moda" too, due to the improved performances of "La Vino Tinto", the national football squad) but because of limited space, they can only shoot hoops in confined areas.
Community leaders have seen that younger children can be drawn to education and programme participation through sports. Learning to play as a team and learning the complete rules of a game in itself has proven beneficial but, even beyond that, communities have begun to feel a sense of identity through their own sports teams. Communities that have been historically divided by long-standing feuds have found themselves more united as the whole community has one team to represent it.
Parents, who previously just kept their children to their own side of the community divide, have realised that they want the local feuds and violence to stop as their own child crosses "the divide" into the other area of the shanty town in order to play with the team or to practice.
The children themselves have learnt from scratch in many cases how to play. They have travelled all over Caracas to play matches against other shanty town teams or even, in some cases, against teams from the International Schools of Caracas (they would be be upset if we didn't mention here that they twice won against the much larger, American students at one of the International Schools!). What one can now see though is the sense of pride they have as a team and the improved organisation and desire to practice and improve. Once children become involved they are expected to study and many have enrolled in school again, often for the first time in many years, so that they can continue to participate in the sports programme.
In this way, the community workers are successfully using sport to help develop the children and broaden their life experiences in every sense: motivation, self-esteem, physical development and general happiness and well-being.
Veniños has agreed to fund Asociación Civil El Samán for the next year.
We will cover all the basic expenses that coaches and staff incur and the transport costs to get the teams to their matches all over Caracas. There are several teams for each age group and at present 55 children are enrolled in the sports programme.