Using Street Soccer to Rethink Lifestyles, Discrimination, and Conflict
Sara Diestro was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
by Sara Diestro, Founder of Peru's Sport and Life
Diestro, founder of Sport and Life schools in Peru, uses soccer as a tool to improve the lives of at-risk youth so they can create a better future for themselves. She also gives a voice to women and encourages them to fight for their rights.
What three qualities are needed by an agent of change to succeed?
A contagious conviction and passion for change; talent for organizing and educating; and being optimistic—always giving hope and maintaining a positive outlook.
What made you succeed in your job?
I implemented a simple project (playing soccer) that responded to people’s needs and was able to engage adolescents and youth—because they were able to identify with the entire process and make it their own.
What specific tactics or strategies did you use?
I attend to and listen to people actively and with affection, making them feel important. I use the power of soccer to create hope and changes with youth, and I encourage them to take an active role in their own life. I believe in what I do.
What is your super power?
I bring out the positive side of people, including the human and sensitive side of young people who have been involved situations of delinquency. I'm stubborn, passionate, and optimistic. I believe in dreams as a mobilizing energy. I am sensitive and energetic, with common sense. My cheerful attitude has helped me to ensure the project’s success, as well as my talent for organizing and converting will into action.
What super power would you like to have?
The power to convince people, especially decision makers, that we can all change the world and that WE MUST COMMIT TO DOING SO.
How does your work create changes in women’s lives, their family, and society?
Street soccer works for social transformation, as well as the development and citizenship of young people, with a focus on gender equality and social inclusion. We have co-ed teams of men and women who gather to play with a scoring system that rewards fair play, women's participation, and compliance with the rules established by the participants before each game. There isn’t a referee—instead we have a mediator.
The rules are determined by the youth, with specific emphasis placed on analyzing the conflict, violence, and abuse of their everyday lives. At the end of the game, the teams meet to evaluate their compliance with the rules, together with the mediator, who promotes both dialogue and reflection. This way of playing soccer is an opportunity to rethink lifestyles, discrimination, and conflict. It teaches new ways of life that are supportive and productive, with clear values that originate on the soccer field and guide the players in their relationship with the rest of society.
In this setting, women feel they are a building force, connecting soccer to their social commitments through concrete actions, teamwork, affection, and solidarity. They develop programs that are changing their lives, their neighborhoods, and society.
They have organized community playgrounds, cultural workshops, and sports festivals. They have proposed projects to be included in their local governments’ participatory budgets. They have conducted studies and have worked as social promoters.
The women have demonstrated their individual and collective force, strengthening their confidence, personal safety, self-esteem, and leadership qualities. They also reflect on their needs—the ways they are discriminated against, and the different types of conflicts they face.
They learn to take ownership of their words, to defend their rights—and these become part of the rules agreed upon in the games. They lead youth and community groups, and propose activities, taking advantage of both their proximity and sensitivity to the problems of both youth and adolescents.
What advice would you give to other women who want to innovate and create social change?
We can do anything—women’s sensitivity should be seen as a strength and become a vital energy to achieving a better world. As Paulo Coelho says: this is a time of feminization of humanity, because intuition, sensitivity, and the search for the meaning of life will prevail; and that represents us. We are constantly searching to give meaning to our lives and that of others.
Sara Diestro is a Peruvian social entrepreneur, a specialist in football strategies for social development, and a founding partner of the Street Football's South American network.