To support local youth leadership of environmental sustainability, EcoLogic and APROSARSTUN identified and incorporated local Q’eqchi Mayan students from a school that specializes in community development and sustainability. Seeing that successful conservation required collaboration across the border, leaders from EcoLogic and APROSARSTUN identified fútbol matches with Belizean youth as a vehicle to bring young people together, form relationships, and address the topics of over-fishing and deforestation in a fresh, youth-led way. EcoLogic has worked on the Belizean side with SATIIM (Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management), a Belizean environmental and development nonprofit, since 1999. Along with these partners we are designing an environmental stewardship curriculum to accompany the matches, and we are set for our first Guatemalan-Belizean Young Environmental Leaders Fútbol Gameday for September 2010 to be held in the village of Barra Sarstún, Guatemala.
The Fútbol Bridge project will have both immediate and long-term positive results. The project will not only give structure and consistency to cross-boundary fútbol matches, allowing Guatemalan and Belizean youth to form meaningful relationships, but it will also teach them the importance of respecting and caring for the environment around them. The 90 young people who will participate in our first gameday (a series of several matches) will learn about the risks caused by overfishing, deforestation, and pollution, and they will be able to start coordinating protection and conservation efforts with their counterparts across the river. Furthermore, upon the success of our project, we hope to replicate the Fútbol Bridge model in other villages where EcoLogic works in Central America, producing region-wide results.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
For our current year, we need to ensure that our first fútbol gameday this September is well-planned, organized, attended and enjoyed. We hope this first experience will kick off follow-up matches, with plans for a tournament in the future. We have been preparing for the first gameday for several months, in collaboration with APROSARSTUN, Ak’Tenemit (the local Q’eqchi Mayan school), the Center for Sea and Aquatic Studies (an institute at the local Guatemalan university), SATIIM (on the Belizean side), and the Fisherfolk Association of Barra Sarstún. Our careful planning and buy-in from all of these local institutions are laying the groundwork for success this year, and we are excited to see the outcome.
In year 2, we know that in order to be successful, we will need to develop a well-structured, interactive curriculum focused on the principle that working as a team to protect the environment improves the quality of life in our communities. While we are developing activities in this regard for our September gameday, we would like to formalize our approach with an official curriculum that can be used in other Central American regions where we work. Thus, year 2 will be a time to document, reflect upon, and fine tune our program. We also will be making strong efforts in our second year to ensure the participation of girls along with boys, further acknowledging the importance of unity in solving environmental problems.
In year 3, we hope to have a functioning, self-sufficient Young Environmental Leaders fútbol program, with regularly scheduled matches and a tournament. In order for us to reach this goal, we will be making sure to identify and support potential youth leaders from the first gameday, so they can develop their leadership and expand local interest and action amongst their peers.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
Our primary challenge in the area regards transportation, both its logistics and costs. While the participating villages are only about 15 kilometers apart, there are no paved roads connecting them – they often have to travel across open water to reach one another. Travel by boat can be unpredictable and is becoming increasingly expensive. Seeing that this is one of the most remote regions of both countries, fuel costs are extremely high. Thus, we are quite dependent upon the availability and price of fuel. Also, communication networks can be unreliable, which can make planning and outreach difficult.