Author: Salesian Missions

Publication Date: March 06, 2024

Meeting God on the Soccer Field

In February 2020, Father Agustin Togo had a vision—to engage and inspire Achuar children through sports. Specifically, he wanted to use soccer to motivate at-risk youth to attend school, and build their spiritual, moral values to guide their lives and paths forward. Four years later, the Yankuam Jintia Fútbol School far exceeds his dream.

Fr. Agustin lives and works with the indigenous Achuar community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where families struggle with high levels of poverty and are forced to send their children to work instead of school. Soccer, he believed, could build a crucial bridge and bring these children into the classroom. The game would lead to education; education would lead to opportunities; and through those opportunities, youth could lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.

“Don Bosco had always dreamed that young people could be happy in everything they did,” Fr. Agustin explained at the time. “Since the Achuar like fútbol so much, why not start a fútbol school for youth?”

And so he did. Fr. Agustin chose “from talent to vocation” as the school’s motto, in order to reinforce the idea that students would discern and pursue their path in life. He also worked closely with community leaders in order to secure their 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.

Today—nurtured by their shared commitment—that one school has blossomed into seven, with locations now in Wichimi, Patukme, Wasakentsa, Sapapentsa, Karakam, Wampuik and Wachirpas. Youth participation has grown from 80 children to 700. In order to strengthen the bonds among these communities, Fr. Agustin and volunteer coaches recently organized intermural leagues for the under-12 player category.

“Through soccer, which is so important in the life of the Achuar population, children learn values such as respect, discipline, responsibility and teamwork,” Fr. Agustin explains. “But it is also a way for young people to meet God.” To that end, he also organizes opportunities for prayer, confessions and celebrations at the schools.

“For more than 125 years, Salesian missionaries have been working to overcome educational obstacles throughout Ecuador,” says Father Michael Conway, director of Salesian Missions. “Fr. Agustin’s initiative represents an innovative example of how to do this.”

Fr. Agustin has future plans, too—starting with obtaining technical training for volunteer soccer coaches through an agreement with the Salesian Polytechnic University. Volunteers will be able to access teaching methods for physical activity and sport courses. He also hopes to establish connections with soccer teams and schools in other provinces of the country, so that youth can test their skills.

“There is talent, skill and technique among the young players,” he says. “My dream is to have a national team of the Achuar people and participate in championships in other cities around the country.”

We can’t wait to watch them compete!

Learn more about our work in Ecuador.

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