The Fútbol Bridge: Uniting Guatemalan and Belizean Youth Across the Sarstun River for Environmental Protection

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The Fútbol Bridge: Uniting Guatemalan and Belizean Youth Across the Sarstun River for Environmental Protection

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Fútbol Bridge unites Q’eqchi Mayan youth who live on opposite sides of the Sarstún River – the border between Guatemala and Belize – to demonstrate the importance of teamwork in solving the environmental crisis that confronts their communities and hinders their quality of life.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

While the Sarstún River is straddled on both sides by land rich in biodiversity, the extent of environmental protection has been limited. Consequently, the fishing stocks in the Sarstún River are depleting, threatening a vital food source and economic asset, and clean drinking water from the regional watershed is becoming increasingly scarce. The Fútbol Bridge directly responds to two problems: first, while conservation efforts are underway on opposite sides of the river, these endeavors have not sufficiently incorporated young people – the next generation who will have to protect the river, its surrounding forests, and its resources in the future; and second, there remains a lack of coordination across the river, greatly limiting the efficiency and impact of any conservation effort in an ecosystem that transcends political boundaries. This is where our project steps in.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The consequences of rampant deforestation daily afflict the rural, Q’eqchi Mayan communities on both sides of the Sarstún River, which forms part of the international border between Guatemala and Belize. Yet efforts to solve these problems are disjointed because of the river – they are in separate countries with different official languages (Spanish and English). The Fútbol Bridge is unique for several reasons: first, it utilizes local youths’ passion for fútbol as a strategy to bring attention to the need for forest conservation and sustainable fishing practices; second, it fosters cross-boundary teamwork between Guatemalan and Belizean youth who will be the future leaders of their communities and who must work together to ensure the health of the river they both influence and share; and third, it demonstrates that fútbol can be a unifying force amongst young people for a common purpose, despite political boundaries. Aside from being unique, this work is absolutely critical. In 2007, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization found that in the last 15 years, Latin America has lost over 158 million acres of forest (almost the size of Texas). Central America alone has lost 19%, the largest percentage for the region, driven largely by the conversion of forests to agricultural and ranching land for the subsistence needs of the rural poor. The results are devastating for both the environment and communities: endangered drinking water sources, degraded fishing stocks in local rivers, accelerated loss of biodiversity, and a massive release of greenhouse gases.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

All of EcoLogic’s work in the Sarstún region is planned and implemented in partnership with APROSARSTUN (the Maya Association for the Rural Wellbeing of the Sarstún Area) a local, Q’eqchi Mayan nonprofit organization that promotes gender equality, education, health care, cultural preservation, and community resilience to natural disasters. Its members are invaluable leaders who educate and mobilize their communities. Since 2008, EcoLogic formed a partnership with APROSARSTUN to add expertise in environmental protection and institutional capacity building to their work. Through our partnership, EcoLogic is helping APROSARSTUN find creative conservation and resource management solutions. Our work has both tangible, short-term impacts, such as the establishment of community tree nurseries (producing almost 14,000 trees) and agroforestry parcels, and long-term impacts, such as the formation of community based institutions like volunteer-run water committees. We have also conducted six workshops on sustainable resource management and have facilitated several learning exchanges with community-based conservation groups across the river on the Belizean side. While we are encouraged by these steps, there remains need for enhanced community participation, particularly amongst youth, and additional groundwork in creating coordinating efforts across the river. We know that unifying young people from opposite sides of the border through fútbol will greatly expand and enrich the positive impacts in the communities along the Sarstún River.
About You
EcoLogic Development Fund
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



EcoLogic Development Fund


, MA, Middlesex County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

EcoLogic Development Fund

Organization Phone


Organization Address

25 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 203, Cambridge, MA 02130

Organization Country

, MA, Middlesex County

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, IZ

Do you have a patent for this idea?


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.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

In what country?

, IZ

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Maya Association for the Rural Wellbeing of the Sarstun Area (APROSARSTUN)

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Partnerships are of central importance to the Fútbol Bridge project. EcoLogic implements all of its projects in Central America with a local partner organization. In this regard, we are able to engage communities as a collaborator as opposed to an outsider, while at the same time building the capacity of local institutions rather than causing dependency. APROSARSTUN is the perfect partner for this project because of their youthful spirit and close connection to the schools of the region. The same “group effort” mentality that the Fútbol Bridge engenders in youth is reflected in the way we collaborate with local partners.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

This year’s Fútbol Gameday in September will include about 45 young people each from Guatemala and Belize, for a total of 90 youth, yet there are close to 2,000 children, ages 4 to 18, in the project area around the Sarstún River. In order to grow the Fútbol Bridge to ensure a wide reaching impact, we first must expand our outreach to additional communities in the area and determine how to involve youth from various villages in an equitable and coordinated manner. This will take additional planning and effort, but we hope to involve youth leaders in outreach efforts. Second, we need to formalize a curriculum that successfully transforms the lessons of teamwork and dedication learned from playing fútbol into grassroots leadership for conservation and poverty alleviation. We know that this year’s gameday will be a valuable indicator of the effectiveness of our curriculum and we look forward to reflecting upon its successes and shortcomings in order to ensure its efficacy. Third, we aspire to replicate the Fútbol Bridge model in other sites where EcoLogic works in Central America, which includes Totonicapán and Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Atlántida and Olanchito, Honduras, the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama, and Sierra de Guerrero, Mexico. In each region, we know that fútbol can be a powerful tool for involving youth in the critical environmental work that each of their communities are undertaking. To enable this expansion, we need to start laying the foundation with our partners in these other sites by identifying youth leaders and assessing community interest.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The idea of using fútbol as a cross-boundary, environmental education tool came quite naturally. Fútbol has always united people along the Sarstún River, similar to how it unites people all over the world. Fransisco Tzul, EcoLogic's Guatemala Program Officer and José Domingo Caal, EcoLogic’s Field Technician in Barra Sarstún, Guatemala, noticed how young people play fútbol at any given chance, and recognized the possibilities of utilizing the sport to create alliances amongst youth for the conservation of their forests and rivers. Having heard of a Belizean organization’s successful use of fútbol as an environmental education tool, Fransisco and José Domingo began imagining how it could be used in along the Sarstún River and discussing the idea with other EcoLogic staff and our partner, APROSARSTUN. One of the principal goals of our work in the region is to facilitate cross-boundary collaboration, and we were looking for a strategy that could produce energy around conservation, particularly amongst young people. EcoLogic and APROSARSTUN then decided that we could have a much greater impact on the environment and local communities if we hosted young people from both the Guatemalan and Belizean side of the river, utilizing fútbol as the bridge.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

José Domingo Caal is a young, Q’eqchi Mayan man from the Sarstún region of eastern Guatemala. Passionate, insightful, and highly dedicated, he works with EcoLogic to coordinate our agroforestry projects and assist our local partner, APROSARSTUN. Having risen above the challenges of poverty himself, José Domingo received a technical degree in Rural Well-Being, with a concentration in Community Development and Gender Equality is pursuing a degree in Legal and Social Sciences. He is fluent in Spanish and his native language, Q’eqchi, which enables him to be effective in the indigenous communities where he works. He is also a fútbol player, having played on teams in this region throughout his youth.

José Domingo plays a number of roles in his community: as Field Technician, he is EcoLogic’s project local outreach manager and under his leadership, five pilot communities have begun using agroforestry to diversify their food and income resources. He also coordinates with farmers to help mitigate forest clearing, leads community workshops on environmental sustainability, establishes community tree nurseries for reforestation, and works with local fishermen’s associations to ensure their collaboration.

The lessons of cooperation, unity, and effort that we learn from playing fútbol, especially with people who are different from us, are key for creating a successful conservation strategy in the region. As José Domingo puts it: “What inspires me is teamwork, good coordination of activities, and the good will of the people of the communities. I do this type of work because I enjoy it, because I have lived all my life in one community, and I have truly experienced what it is like to live in extreme poverty.”

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