A football field of dreams
TAGUIG CITY, Philippines – “Not all wars are won with guns.” This is the theme for this year’s Football for Peace festival, a yearly sports event that is helping Mindanao youth get a better foothold on their future.
The Football for Peace program was established nearly 3 years ago by a unit of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) based in Sulu. Unit head Col. Stephen Cabanlet wanted to reinforce the values of discipline and teamwork among Sulu's disaffected youth. The Marine troops also saw football as an effective way of popularizing concepts of peace in a war-torn region.
It is not easy in one of the country's poorest provinces, but the Marines believe this sports program has made significant steps towards building peace in Mindanao.
Saudi A. Upahm is a watchman and sports teacher of a public elementary school in Cotabato. He is also the civilian coach for the Bangsamoro team of under-6 players. The Marine unit there has been recruiting and training teachers to coach football to take over the program should they be reassigned elsewhere.
According to Upahm, the football program can be a stepping stone to bridge conflicting clans in Cotabato. “Ang mga pamilyang ‘yan di pwede mag-abot kasi nagsasapkan o nagbabarilan," [These families can’t meet in one venue as they would end up fighting or shooting each other.] said Upham.
Children of warring clans, who would never interact under normal circumstances, are getting acquainted on the football field.
For Upham, the fact that the parents are able to stay in one venue to watch their children play without threatening each other is a big milestone.
Cotabato is notorious for warring clans. The conflict, rooted in political rivalries and ancestral domain claims, can take decades to resolve and cost the lives of many.
“Magulo talaga. Di kami nakakatulog dahil sa awayan at minsan sa gabi, kailangan naming mag-evacuate," [It really is chaotic. We can’t sleep because we can hear them fighting, and sometimes we need to suddenly leave our homes at night for safety.] said Upham's wife, Bainor.
Both are hopeful that, buoyed by the ongoing Bangsamoro peace process, the Football for Peace program will be a concrete building block to a peaceful Mindanao for the younger generation.
A better future
Young players hope that excelling in sports will be their key to attaining a college degree.
Even at a young age, defender Bienvenido “Idoy” Magun, a grade 6 student from Taytay Team of Palawan, knows the potential of football in his future. “Ginagalingan ko ang paglalaro para makakuha ako ng scholarship sa kolehiyo." [I practice to become better in football so I can eventually get a college scholarship.]
Inspired by the Marine coaches, Idoy dreams of joining the Marines one day. He refers to it as his way of paying forward. He envisions himself as a Marine who can mold young children and give them hope.
Idoy and his teammates will be competing in the Football for Peace festival against other PMC sponsored teams and Manila-based elementary and high school teams from Xavier School, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and Don Bosco College. There are a total of 92 teams competing in six categories: under-6, under-8, under-10, under-12, under-14, and under-16.
This year, Football for Peace holds its football festival from April 20-25, 2013 at the Naval Station in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Compared to last year, the number of participants sponsored by the PMC and its supporters tripled from approximately 50 to over 170.
The players from Mindanao and Palawan were met by Jeffrey Steven Train, one the program's avid supporters. Train, a businessman and retired Canadian soldier, migrated to the Philippines.
Train came across the program while strolling in one of Manila’s commercial centers. “I saw a box under the stairs, where nobody can see. I was curious since it was an initiative of the PMC. So I did my homework, researched about it and made an appointment with the PMC, ” Train said.
The box asked for donations of old football gear such as jersey, socks and shoes that the children can use. Train, however, decided he wanted to support the program by giving the children new gear.
“We want to empower the kids. They deserve to have new gear which they can be proud of, not second-hand gear,” Train explains. Other private companies and industries have pledged to support and sponsor the festival.
Asked what motivates him, Train replied, “I am now in the Philippines. This is my community now. I just wish more Filipinos will get involved”. – with reports from Stephen J. Pedroza/Rappler.com