Friday 23 March 2012
Tottenham Hotspur's Brazilian midfielder Sandro has praised the work of an 'Inspired by Kickz' project in Rio after meeting 10 young people who have had their lives transformed by the scheme.
The youngsters from Esporte Seguro [Safe Sport] spent three days with Spurs this week as part of a trip-of-a-lifetime visit to London.
Esporte Seguro operates in the Morro dos Prazeres favela in Rio de Janeiro, an area with high levels of deprivation and crime.
The initiative uses the Kickz model (a partnership between the Premier League and the police) of engaging youngsters through football in some of the most challenging areas with the aim of creating safer and more respectful communities.
"You cannot put words to something that is immeasurable"
- Orlando Dato
The scheme has proved to be an enormous success in England and now it has been exported to other countries such as India, Indonesia and Brazil.
Esporte Seguro, run by the Premier League through Premier Skills in partnership with the British Council, has been active since December 2011 with over 280 young people attending events such as football training and citizenship classes.
And Esporte Seguro community coach Orlando Dato believes the project has made a massive difference in that short space of time.
"Their lives have had a huge transformation," said Dato, who accompanied the youngsters on the trip along with other coaches and community leaders from Rio.
"We have had young people that didn't study or who were idle, and now they are sports training.
"There were also young people that used to rob and be into crime that don't do it anymore. I used to have people that were in the mafia and now they are registered workers in society.
"Most of the kids didn't believe in this project, did not think it would happen, because it is something that never happened before.
"It's very important that these schemes take place"
"This scheme gives worth to these kids because they were segregated from the community. This scheme has treated us as people."
Asked if he could describe how valuable this project was, Orlando added: "You cannot put words to something that is immeasurable."
During their week in London, the youngsters visited the Premier League offices, where they met Chief Executive Richard Scudamore and took part in an English language session.
They then visited Tottenham Hotspur's training ground in Chigwell, where they watched some of their heroes in action, and afterwards they were able to meet stars such as Sandro, Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Sandro hosted a question and answer session with the youngsters, offering them advice and encouragement, as well as expressing his wish to see the Rio project for himself one day.
"I went through the same things they are going through," he said. "Their lives are very similar to mine, studying, training and then helping back at home.
"It was very emotional to share with them that it's not only about flowers and good things - it's about thorns also, but it's good. You can make it through.
"I never went to Rio and to this neighbourhood where they live so I think it will be very interesting to see where they play and train and to be there with them.
"It's very important that these schemes take place and I'm really glad to hear that projects like this are taking place in my country."
The youngsters also had a tour of the White Hart Lane stadium as well as seeing Kickz in action for themselves at one of Tottenham Hotspur's projects in Northumberland Park.
"Anytime you can bring different cultures together is fantastic, it can only be a positive," said Tottenham Hotspur Foundation Chief Executive Officer Grant Cornwell.
"People from England may not realise how important this project is for the people in Rio"
- Geisa Santos
"Football has that unique ability to engage, motivate and break down barriers. You don't need to speak the same language. Watching them together you wouldn’t know they were from different continents.
"We are in a unique position as a football club to really engage and to help motivate and inspire our young people. We are not seen as the police, teachers or social services, we are seen in a totally different light.
"These young people are not trouble makers, these young people are in the fifth most deprived ward in London. They have aspirations like anyone else, they want to get a job, they want to better themselves.
"The ambition is to reach as many young people as possible, to help change as many young people’s lives as possible."
Geisa Santos is a police officer who works as a coach at Esporte Seguro and she said the trip to London will be remembered by the youngsters "for the rest of their lives".
"This trip has been a dream," she said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"The kids have learnt that it is worth dreaming"
- Orlando Dato
"This experience will serve as an incentive for the other kids that didn't come here, because the kids that came on this trip were the ones that had good behaviour and participated in the classes.
"People from England may not realise how important this project is for the people in Rio, of how it was before and how it is now.
"Besides giving opportunities to people not to enter drugs or crime, it's also linking the police with the community which is something that didn't happen before.
"The behaviour of the youngsters has changed but also their perspective of life. They used to have lost dreams and they have been restored."
And Orlando says the visit to England will have a profound effect on all the youngsters involved in the project.
"The kids have learnt that it is worth dreaming," he concluded. "They dreamt about this trip and they got it.
"The important thing is that I can make the argument for them, that they can fulfil their dreams. They can be whatever they want."