What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Soccer has played a central role in my development as a humanitarian, activist and social entrepreneur. The sport has also provided a crucial source of income for me as a part-time soccer coach and referee. I witnessed the unifying qualities of the game in America when I began asking for gently worn soccer equipment and clothing in my own community before traveling to impoverished communities in northern Ecuador. All of the soccer equipment was given away to the communities we worked in and soccer was a shared interest and passion, dissolving many cultural and linguistic barriers to our medical relief work. After participating on two medical brigades with Shoulder to Shoulder, I worked in a school near our central clinic (CMHH) in Santo Domingo, to find out if I could use the game of soccer and other team oriented sports to engage children with public health messages. I realized how powerful soccer could be as an instrument for community engagement and social change because of the instantaneous enthusiasm the kids brought to my health and physical education classes. When they saw the balls, cones and training vests I was sharing with the school, they listened intently to everything I had to share with them when enticed with the reward of playing with these materials. Despite living conditions and the daily challenges of poverty, moments spent playing organized games, was a noticeable escape from these difficult circumstances. Witnessing the unifying passion for the game, I realized the true potential of soccer for promoting peace, essential values and social change. When I learned that soccer was being used for poverty alleviation, empowerment of youth, community development and social change I had to learn more about existing programs and highly successful models currently being implemented, because socioeconomic factors are the most potent predictors of health and life expectancy. My desire is to implement soccer in conjunction with health and wellness programs and then adapt a model that can be used in underserved and disadvantaged communities of rural Kentucky, which is currently embattling poverty, low education, limited resources, the childhood obesity crisis and chronic disease. Increasing recreation and community engagement through soccer and sports appears to be one of the most powerful instruments for community engagement, mobilization and development. My desire is identify, test and refine evidence-based strategies and models for social change using soccer and sports as a central instrument.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
Pele and friends developed the A GANAR idea many years ago but the idea to combine recreational and health programs in a disadvantaged was the idea of Dr. Tom Young, the Director and founder of Shoulder to Shoulder, Sarah Dobra the STSG coordinator and lead community-based researcher in Ecuador and Michael Jacob Sither, a public health and medical student who is determined to use soccer to change the world one community at a time.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Through another organization or company
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company
Shoulder to Shoulder (Hombro a Hombro)