Football: Building a better world

ZAMBOANGA City (MindaNews/8 March)—Football. To others, it is a mere sport of kicking a ball into goal posts. But for Sharifa Mae Jumar, it was a window of opportunity.

Malaking tulong po ito para sa akin (This is a big help for me),” she said.

Sharifa is a shy high school student in her fourth year at the Western Mindanao State University and an avid fan of football. Through her passion and through the efforts of the Football For Peace Program (FFP), she has been able to reach milestones she never thought she could reach before.

“Nag start ako maglaro nung second year palang ako sa Jolo (I started playing during my second year in Jolo),” Sharifa explained when asked about her first encounter with the FFP.

And from then on, Sharifa became one of the many, including those from poor communities in Sulu, who have had their lives softened by the FFP, which has come a long way from a sports clinic to a powerful instrument in shaping amity among the youth and their communities.

Football for Peace

Every great idea has its humble beginnings.

“It all started one afternoon,” began Lt. Colonel Stephen Cabanlet of the Marine Batallion Landing Team 3, “Kami mga football enthusiasts, naglalaro kami, pampalipas oras (We football enthusiasts were playing to pass the time).”

“That afternoon, may mga batang interesado sa ginagawa namin (there were children who showed interest in the game),” he continued. “So what we did was we invited them.”

Cabanlet explained that while playing football with the children that afternoon, he saw how these children simply wanted to learn. He realized they needed to teach the children. “Sabi ko, mas magandang mataniman sila ng values (I said that it’s better to instill values in them).”

They started with simple football clinics in different schools. But they wanted to reach out more. With the help of other Marines, the Philippine Marine Corps Football for Peace was instituted.

More than meets the eye

Although it started with football, the program ultimately evolved into a higher form of advocacy and played a part in literacy training in the form of four other sub-programs.

“The FFP is not only for playing football,” Cabanlet articulated. “It has four sub-programs. First the “Character Development Program” where we teach discipline, values of friendship, sportsmanship and camaraderie.”

“Second is the sports program. We have been invited to join national and hopefully, international, tournaments,“ he added.

Just recently, the FFP concluded a two-day tournament held at the Edwin Andrews Air Base last February 15-16 with over 550 participants.

The third is the educational program, which includes scholarships, educational trips and tutorials for the children, he said. The literacy rate in the region (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) where Sharifa used to study was lagging behind compared to other regions in the country.

“The last is the mentorship program, Cabanlet said, noting that the program shows children what life is like in the Marine Corps.

“For us marines, our trademark is our being disciplined soldiers. We show them how we live as marines,” he said.

Not just the children

The FFP has not only left a mark on the children but also to their families as well.

The students, the children and perhaps the communities involved have become somewhat like family to the marines, said Lt. Caesar Gandeza, a previous director of the program.

“Initially, nakukuha lang namin ang atensyon ng mga bata. After a while, pati na rin yun teachers and parents (Initially, we caught the attention of the children and then the teachers and parents),” he imparted. “Habang tumatagal na nagtuturo kame sa mga bata, minsan yun mga matatanda, mga father nila, ate, kuya, sumasama na rin sila. Naging malapit yun mga magulang nila sa amin through the children na tinuruan namin (As we teach the children, their older folk, father, their older sisters and brothers joined along the way. We became close to the parents of the children we’re teaching).”

When asked how long he could keep up with the FFP, Gandeza responded: “As long as nandito yun passion for football and passion for helping, and there will be children willing to give you their time, ipagpatuloy parin namin to (As long as the passion for football and helping others remain, and there are children willing to give their time, we will continue this).”

Gandeza believed that his rewarding experience in the program “is not something to boast about but something that makes you happy.”

Hope for the Future

Sharifa is currently setting her sights on playing as varsity for Far Eastern University. When asked if she was ready, she smiled a genuine smile and timidly said “Sana po.”

The road ahead of her is bright and full of promise, all because compassion and soccer started walking hand in hand together. The FFP is set to continue on helping the people Jose Rizal would call the “Pag-asa ng Bayan” (hope of the nation).

Lt. Col. Cabanlet perfectly summarizes the main encouragement of the “Football for Peace Program” with a single statement: “Magkaisa tayo para sa peace and development (Let us unite for peace and development).” (Althea Sanson/PIO-USAID-ENGAGE)

(This article by Althea Sanson, 1st Year Mass Communications student of Western Mindanao State University, was awarded the Best Peace Journalism Story by the Public Information Office of the City Government of Zamboanga and the USAID ENGAGE Project in a recently concluded Peace Journalism Training and Internship, held from February 22 to March 7 in Zamboanga City. Sanson bested 14 other college students who participated in the internship program.)