MANILA, Philippines – A 14-year-old Tausug wants to be the first Maldita from Sulu.
At her young age, Sharifamae Jamug stands out in the field and dominates games. She dreams of joining the women’s national team, the Malditas.
Her coach thinks she has a chance.
“Si [Sharifamae] nag-e-excel in terms of scoring namin…Meron ngang pumunta rito kasama ko rin, sabi niya gusto raw niyang ipakita sa manager ng Malditas si Mae, kasi nakitang may potential. Kahit ako nakikita ko, kasi 14 pa lang siya, pero iba na talaga laro ni [Sharifamae] compared sa ibang mga babaeng naglalaro.“
(Sharifamae excels in terms of scoring. One time, another coach visited here and wanted the manager of the Malditas to see her because she saw her potential. I see it too. At 14 years, she plays unlike any other.)
Sharifamae used to watch football from the sidelines of a grassy pitch in her war-torn village. She started as a “ball boy” for other kids training under the “Football for Peace” program which was introduced by the Philippine Marine Corps across the province.
But she was determined to be part of the team which consisted only of boys.
Moved by Sharifamae’s interest to play the sport, the soldiers and the Tausug community helped her parents — both farm workers in coconut plantations — to send Sharifamae to a high school in Zamboanga City.
Having read on Rappler about the plight of Sharifamae, generous strangers, including Jose Rizal’s great granddaughter, donated to the Tausug student’s education. She also pledged to send Sharifamae to college.
Sharifamae now juggles studying and playing as the midfielder of the city’s Xycals, a women’s football team composed of 28 college and 3 high school students, including herself.
No less than the captain of the national women’s football team, Marielle Benitez, was touched by Sharifamae’s story.
“She has a great story, it’s inspiring that people would want the younger generation to aspire to become a Maldita, and I think that’s what we are doing right now trying to make girls try to make the national team their end goal,” Marielle, also called Captain Maldita, said.
Marielle started playing football when she was as young as Sharifamae, but under opposite conditions and with a different motivation.
In high school, Marielle joined a football club at PAREF Woodrose School, a private school for girls in posh Ayala Alabang.
“It was an excuse for me and my friends to hang out after class,” Marielle recalled.
“Eventually, I learned to love the sport. I was fortunate enough that in my school, we were doing well. When I got into college, La Salle took me in as one of their scholars. And then after my first year, I was already taken in or recruited for the national team,” Marielle said.
Will Sharifamae make it?
Marielle feels Sharifamae and other girls from the provinces have an advantage and stronger chances of being exposed to football.
“[In] the provinces, they’re exposed to that environment wherein they can freely run around — big areas of football pitches — even just grassy areas. And so that helps in their athleticism, and i think as compared to the kids in Manila,” Marielle said.
The success of the Azkals, the Philippine national men’s football team, in the last two years has sparked widespread interest in football among kids, the captain of Malditas added.
“Now you have little girls, little boys wanting to be part of the Azkals, the Malditas, looking up to Phil Younghusband or James Younghusband. They have role models now,” Marielle said.
Next year, the Malditas will start a super league for women in which the kids from the provinces will get the opportunity to excel in the sport while in their communities. The kids then get invited by colleges and universities in Manila, which opens up opportunities for semi-professional players.
With her talent, the doors have already been opened for Sharifamae. And her story, coupled with rigorous training, could pave the way for a promising football career ahead of her, according to the captain of the national women’s football team.
“She will make it to the national team if she continues to play football, if she continues to get good training. But more than that, I think the sport is able to help her come out of her life in Sulu and give her better education, better opportunities,” Marielle said.
What drives Sharifamae? This 14-year-old wants to rescue her family from poverty and conflict.
“Ang pangarap ko po, maiahon ko sila sa hirap, hindi inaapi ng tao. Gusto ko may magrespeto sa pamilya ko.’Pag mahirap ka po, iba yung tingin sa iyo. Gusto ko iba ang tingin nila sa mga mahihirap. Ipapakita ko sa kanila na yung tao, mahirap ang tao, pero meron silang talent. Tulad ng football. Yun yung talent ko.“
(I dream of getting them out of poverty, not oppressed by other people. I want people to respect my family. If you’re poor, they look at you differently. I want to change how people look at the poor. I’ll show them that even poor people have talent. Like football, that’s my talent.)
The Malditas captain said it takes a ball to help boost the confidence of a kid, build her character and change her life.
“Ang story ni Sharifamae, it’s just nice…she was exposed to a lot of things pero she uses the sport as something that will bring her out of poverty…It allows her to come out of her shell, which is really a goal of the sport, to build confidence, it develops the character of the person.”
Sharifamae’s story which is shared by other kids in Sulu who passionately play football, inspired the 2000 “Balls for Peace” campaign launched by Rappler in July 2012 in partnership with the marines. To date, the drive has collected 1,205 balls.
“I think it’s a very good campaign, if you’re able to provide the balls to these kids, which is something that is needed, you just need an area, you don’t need a big pitch. Just a kid with a ball, practicing ball skills….So if a kid is able to play ball, build his self-confidence just with that ball then it will definitely go a long way with the sport and in developing the kid’s character,” Marielle said.
Sharifamae and Mariel may have developed the zeal to play football under extremely different circumstances, but it is the same passion and determination that might bring the girl from Sulu and the Malditas captain together to play the game under the same national team. – Rappler.com