In Colombia, a local version of the World Cup aims to improve soccer skills and encourage peace.
November 17, 2022
Each summer for the last four years, a community on the outskirts of Soacha, Colombia, has gathered to watch its children play in their own, local version of the World Cup – a soccer tournament for peace.
In Soacha, where many families have experienced conflict, displacement and violence, MCC partner Creciendo Juntos offers children and youth after-school tutoring, activities and workshops on themes of peace and nonviolence. Creciendo Juntos, whose name means “Growing Together,” is a partner of a local Mennonite church.
The staff at the organization, many of whom are students at a nearby university, run a variety of programs year-round. From games to academic support, to specialized activities like a workshop on violence against women for International Women’s Day, everything that goes on at Creciendo Juntos works to impart a message of peace.
One of the most popular activities of the year is Mundialito por La Paz, Soacha’s “Little World Cup for Peace.” This past summer, the event drew 81 children from ages 6 to 17.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, participants practice with their teams (shown above), and learn about conflict resolution, teamwork and nonviolent peacemaking. These lessons help build students’ coping skills and lay a foundation for a more peaceful future. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
Here, Barley Sneider Usage Pinilla, one of the young participants, guards his goal. Soccer is a powerful draw for young people, says Clara Unzicker of Benson, Illinois, who is serving in Colombia through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program as a child and youth worker with Creciendo Juntos. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
Soccer is so huge in Colombia – these kids are already spending so much of their free time playing anyway. And all of the activities at Creciendo Juntos are related to peace and nonviolence, so Mundialito is a way of combining the two.”
Alejandro Romero, pictured above in black, is one of two coaches who worked with kids during the tournament and the weeks of preparation for it this year. Each player in the tournament paid 1,000 pesos (around 25 cents) for every practice; these funds go to pay Romero and Maicol Cárdenas, Mundialito’s other coach for the 2022 season. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
The tournament begins with an opening ceremony, which is well-attended by families and community members. Children wear uniforms donated by the community, every team in a different color to represent the country teams that play in the World Cup. Teams line up to make a grand entrance, proudly displaying the flag of the country whose team they are representing. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
Each team is announced on a loudspeaker as music blares, and they enter to a cheering crowd. Many of the people watching contributed to readying the soccer field for the tournament, helping to clean up, paint and prepare for the opening ceremony. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
Unzicker said that they had a particularly challenging job this year, as mud and rubble from a flood had left the area a mess. But by game day, hard work had replaced litter and dirt with a clean field and freshly painted blue boundary lines. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker
Teams play in three age divisions, each of which will have a champion. Above, children from the youngest age group stand with Unzicker (left) and Martha Liliana Garcia. MCC photo/Clara Unzicker