For the final five days of our South America trip, the CSPS team visited with Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Luz Amuchastegui (class of 2013) in her hometown of Rosario, Argentina.
Luz and her staff at El Desafío Foundation work to transform their neighborhood, which is home to two of the oldest and most dangerous shantytowns in the city, La Lata and Villa Moreno, through innovate sports and educational workshops that keep kids engaged and on a path toward success.
Here’s a summary of our activities during the five days we spent in Rosario.
Day 1: Field and Classroom Sessions
After recuperating from the overnight flight from Sao Paulo, Luz gathered the team from our hotel and brought us to the El Desafio headquarters, a medium-sized warehouse facility that has been repainted and arranged to host more than 160 kids with multiple programs happening concurrently.
Many of the program participants, volunteers and “young leaders” — program graduates who have been given opportunities to work part-time with the organization, and who also serve as role models for younger participants — were there to welcome us. We spent the day breaking the ice and building trust with them through some of the classic games in Drs. Hillyer’s and Huffman’s arsenal, and talking about what El Desafio has done for their lives.
“This is my city, and I don’t think it’s fair for people to live the way they do in these shantytowns. We’re here to try and create a different future for the kids from these neighborhoods by working together and giving them the tools to fix their own community.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013
During these sessions, we met a trio of best friends — Andy, Damian and Marco — who have been together at El Desafio for over a year, and who have all taken on roles as soccer coaches, providing mentorship and leadership to another generation of El Desafio participants. We also met Agustina, a 17-year-old who is coaching the Mini Gigantes (“little giants”) soccer team of 12-13 year-olds, becoming one of very few young women coaching boys soccer in the city.
“In Argentina, the economics have been so difficult in the past years, and people have lost a lot of hope. Then, in the middle of all of this, there’s El Desafio, which is this kind of a shining jewel. I’m so impressed by the fact they are absolutely committed to providing these kids the best experience possible, not just any experience.” Joan Coraggio, mentor and group communications director for Saatchi LA
Day 2: Mini-Library and Volunteer Training at Urquiza Park
On Saturday morning, the CSPS team and mentors left for Urquiza Park to provide support for El Desafio staff as they installed their sixth Mini-Library, a major project undertaken to provide communal books and reading space for Rosario’s residents.
“I really think the mini-library project has been a success. We have one man who called us after he saw one of our installations near his home. He started to take care of it and makes sure it’s always stocked and that it is looked after.” Sofi Cuadra, international relations manager for El Desafio
After helping mix cement and ensuring the Mini-Library was solidly in place, Drs. Hillyer and Huffman jumped into the volunteer training, led by El Desafio executive director Mario Raimondi. The exercises, focused on team building and responsible living, concluded with a dance session, where Dr. Huffman taught everyone a personalized dance version of Rocky Top.
“Ultimately, the more educated young children are, the less likely they are to get into trouble as teens, which then multiples the problems they’ll have in their adult life. They’re not just having an after-school program, they are changing people’s lives. They are making their world better.” John Lisko, mentor and executive communications director for Saatchi LA
Day 4: First Day of After-School Programming
On Monday, El Desafio welcomed back kids for the first day of after-school programming. The CSPS team got to be there to witness the energy and passion of the staff, volunteers and participants during the soccer, dance, field hockey and art classes.
Despite the heat, the kids in the outdoor classes were excited to get to a small, turf field four blocks from the warehouse, where all practices for team sports are held. First up were the Mini Gigantes, then the older boys soccer teams, and finally the girls field hockey players. A former field hockey goalie herself, Luz even jumped in to share some expertise.
“My life is my passion. What I do for my job is my passion. I am passionate about getting up every morning and being able to change other people’s lives.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013
After the one-hour practices, the players returned to El Desafio with their coaches for a snack and time to hang out before leaving for the day. When the CSPS team arrived back at the warehouse, the dance instructor was just finishing up her class. Drs. Hillyer and Huffman couldn’t resist jumping in to share their own moves with the group.
“Luz is someone I look to as a role model and an example for women in Rosario. She’s married, but she’s not at home washing dishes and cleaning the house. She’s here with us everyday trying to win back this community.” Georgina, volunteer and field hockey coach
Day 5: Second Day of After-School Programming
Before leaving for Buenos Aires, the CSPS team and mentors spent our final hours in Rosario at El Desafio for its second-day of programming. In order for kids to take multiple classes, the organization spreads its programming out throughout the week so different workshops are available every day.
On this occasion, the team experienced El Desafio’s inaugural skateboarding class, where 10 kids stepped on skateboards for the first time and practiced with instructors Bautista and Andy at a nearby basketball court, long abandoned to disuse and recently reclaimed by the organization. Skateboarding was followed by a music class, with the sound of beating drums and laughter filling El Desafio’s warehouse before snack time.
“Luz was just such a positive influence to us within the agency; just a really inspiring individual. It’s unreal that we’ve now had the opportunity to come and see what she has created, to see it live and in person, and actually in action. It’s a phenomenal, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Gwen Conley, mentor and group media director for Saatchi LA
As the afternoon drew to a close, it was time to say our goodbyes to the volunteers, participants and staff at El Desafio — never a painless task when befriending people with such strong commitment and love for doing their part to create new, improved Rosario.
One of the more touching final moments of the trip happened when Agustina, who received a U.S. women’s national soccer team jersey earlier in the week from Dr. Huffman for her role coaching boys soccer, wrote out and shared a short speech about how meaningful the presence of the CSPS team and GSMP mentors was for her.
Agustina began attending El Desafio in early 2014 after Luz spoke at her school. Last year, she signed up for and finished cooking and mentoring classes. And, although she has played soccer since the age of 5, she never considered being a coach until she got the push from Luz and Mario.
At 17 years old, Agustina is committed to securing a bright future for herself, and, at the same time, understands she is a role model for other girls in her community.
At the very core, that is what El Desafio is slowly building: a generation of kids like Agustina, Andy, Damian and Marco who will transform La Lata and Villa Moreno, and bring back hope to many who lost it a long time ago.
“Our first practice, I felt really nervous, emotional and happy, too. From the moment Luz and Mario asked me to become a coach, I knew they believed in me. They’ve given me their full support. And I want to pay back their confidence.” Agustina, participant and Mini Gigantes boys soccer coach