Finding Their Path Through Soccer
In the indigenous Achuar community of Wichimi, Ecuador, soccer reigns supreme. Recognizing an opportunity to engage and inspire youth through an activity they already love, Father Agustin Togo recently launched the Yankuam Jintia Soccer School. This is a major accomplishment that community elders have deemed “historic.”
As do so many indigenous communities throughout the Amazon basin, the Achuar people struggle with high levels of poverty driven by lack of educational access. Yet, encouraging families to send their children to school—and convincing young people to remain there—isn’t that simple. Merely establishing an educational center doesn’t guarantee that students will attend. And the educational value for parents often doesn’t add up because of barriers such as little to no financial resources, the need for help at home, and few perceived opportunities for later employment. One of the heartbreaking consequences is a deepening economic disadvantage: as many as 1.5 million indigenous Ecuadorians now live in poverty—an increase of 35 percent over the last five years.
“For more than 125 years, Salesian missionaries have been working to overcome educational obstacles throughout Ecuador,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Fr. Agustin’s latest initiative represents an innovative example of how to do this.”
“I see a great deal of interest among young Achuar people to be soccer players, to learn to play better, and I asked myself why not try another way of…reaching them through soccer,” explains Father Agustin. Named for Salesian missionary Father Luis (Luigi) Bolla, in honor of his many years of service among the Achuar people and in recognition of his own prowess on the soccer field, the school will teach children and older youth the technical skills of the game—while instilling the broader values of the sport, including collaboration and sportsmanship.
Fr. Agustin chose “from talent to vocation” as the school’s motto, in order to reinforce the idea that students will learn and discover their path in life there. He also worked closely with community leaders in order to secure their buy-in and support for the initiative. Together, the parties signed an agreement to ensure the care of the school’s equipment, collaboration in planned activities, and a commitment to reinforce the civic, spiritual and cultural values that students will learn.
During the school’s inaugural event, two community elders, Carlos Mukucham and Eduardo Mukuink, thanked Fr. Agustin for his pastoral work and described the school’s opening as a historic event. José Sanchim, administrator of Wichimi, announced that all families will support the initiative and that in the future, the idea is to generate sporting matches with other communities.
“Don Bosco always dreamed that young people were happy in everything they did,” says Fr. Agustin. At Yankuam Jintia Soccer School, their happiness may well lead to much brighter futures.
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