Sweat Equity and Soccer for Community Development
Drew Chafetz (center), co-founder of love.fútbol, at the 2010 inauguration event in Guatemala.
When love.fútbol approached the town of San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala last year to build a safe soccer field for its children, the organization was surprised to receive a lukewarm response. Community members were initially reluctant to agree to the project’s sweat equity requirement.
love.fútbol, which works with impoverished communities to build inexpensive, durable soccer pitches for kids, supplies raw materials and guidance, but partner communities are expected to contribute all labor and take ownership of the construction process.
“In our effort to provide the right to play, core belief is that we do not provide a gift of a soccer field,” said Drew Chafetz, co-founder of love.fútbol. “We provide an opportunity for a community partnership and an experience for a community that will lead to long term change.”
“love.fútbol’s core competency isn’t really building soccer fields. It’s mobilizing and empowering communities to build their own.”
At first, the leaders of San Antonio Palopó had expressed interest in partnering with love.fútbol, because the town’s 5,000 children had virtually no dedicated space for physical education. Built against the steep face of a volcanic mountain overlooking Lake Atitlan, San Antonio Palopó had been severely damaged a year ago by Tropical Storm Agnes. Devastating mudslides had decimated its school buildings, and in lieu of a soccer field, local children were playing on a dirt parking lot where traffic from delivery trucks posed a significant safety risk.
But while San Antonio Palopó had experience receiving aid from disaster relief organizations, sweat equity was an unfamiliar request to the community. When members gathered at a town meeting to hear love.fútbol’s proposal, none stepped forward to volunteer their efforts to help construct the soccer field.
“We gave our pitch, and there was an awkward silence,” Chafetz said. “It was an unusual experience for us, because most communities are extremely motivated to partner with us.”
By contributing sweat equity, communities gain not only a soccer pitch, but the opportunity to organize together and strengthen local leadership, especially emerging leaders in youth advocacy. This approach turns building a soccer field into an effective tool for community development—and therefore social change--and opens the door for other sport for development programs. Because love.fútbol’s model requires an investment of labor and leadership, it also ensures that communities are motivated enough to continue to maintain the field in the future.
Just as it looked like San Antonio Palopó’s project was going to be a non-starter, one woman stood to speak. Felipa Pérez Tobar, a mother of five, made a passionate appeal to the town to make the effort to provide a critical resource for its children.
“She basically said, ‘Shame on you for not jumping at this opportunity,’ and changed the tide of the meeting,” Chafetz said. “What I love about that moment is that it embodied a key part of our mission–creating the opportunity for a local leader to emerge and take passion into her own hands.
“From that point, we gained a lot of support for the project, and we felt there was enough demand to move forward.”
The day after the field was open for use, a physical education teacher began teaching children how to play, perhaps training the first generation of soccer players in San Antonio Palopó.
“Before this, the kids of San Antonio Palopó didn’t play soccer – they played kickball,” Chafetz said. “They didn’t know what a corner kick was or understand how to use space and pass the ball effectively. For the first time now, they have a tool that makes learning how to play soccer possible. And local leaders are taking the initiative.”
Chafetz sees love.fútbol as providing a key first step for the growing number of organizations that use soccer as a tool for development, and to address social issues from gender empowerment and youth leadership to health and establishing peace.
“We are specializing in creating a space so that these types of programs can expand to new communities,” Chafetz said. “Our work can make the sector more efficient.”
Last year, love.fútbol was recognized for its contribution to sports for social change with an award from the Nike and Ashoka’s Changemakers® Changing Lives Through Football competition.
“Changemakers® gave us an incredible breath of fresh air that we really needed,” Chafetz said. “The prize funds allowed us to create a degree of sustainability in love.fútbol ’s future.
“Some of the prize helped finance the field in San Antonio Palopó, but more importantly, it allowed us to support and hire critical personnel. Organizations need to invest in their own human capital in order to execute their missions effectively, and we are grateful to Changemakers® for understanding that in their support of social enterprise.”
love.fútbol is currently working with streetfootballworld, founded by Ashoka Fellow Jurgen Griesbeck, to collaborate with other development through football organizations around the world.
All images copyright Estela Maria Vega Trangay