One smiling face can tell an entire story

We have seen the impact our camps can have on children throughout Northern Belize. From the neglected to the physically impaired to the girl who never got a chance to shine, lives have been changed through our programs. Here are a three profiles on some of Belize’s beloved children.

Most people in the world believe that routine and repetition breed boredom. Those who operate under this notion have clearly never met San Narciso’s smallest 9 year old.

Each afternoon this summer began the same for the Sports Servants volunteers. Like clockwork, as we drove up to the field in the center of San Narciso Village, Jesser would sprint around the corner of the bleachers and pounce into the first car door that was opened. Our rental car for the summer quickly became “his” car as he would constantly weasel his way to the driver’s seat in order to pretend he was driving his car down the road, honking at every car he passed. Needless to say, Jesser served as an unwavering source of entertainment and laughs.

After spending many days with this energetic and dynamic boy, we began to learn of his background. Jesser, the shortest boy his age, was orphaned at a young age and was taken in by his grandmother, with whom he now lives. Undersized and overpowered by his peers, he relies on his comical and trouble-making antics to garner attention and affection. Although he commonly refused to participate in the drills at camp, Jesser could be found seeking affirmation and affection from the older boys, grown men, and the American volunteers who were around the field.

As became evident, Jesser carried a void of any substantial, positive male influence in his life. We learned that he is often persuaded by older boys to participate in mischievous activities because of his longing for attention and guidance. Lacking a father figure, Jesser thrived under nurturing guidance of the Belizean coaches that Sports Servants was training through the coaching workshops and camps.

Jesser’s need paired with the Belizean coaches’ desire to celebrate and train each child combined to foster one of the most memorable and meaningful moments of the summer. Jesus, the head coach in San Narciso, observed that Jesser and a number of the youngest campers were feeling neglected since they were seen as too young to participate in scrimmages with the elder age groups. Accordingly, Jesus and the other coaches strategically designed a scrimmage in which Jesser and his contemporaries would have a chance to gain victory. In this unforgettable game, the regulation time expired with a tie score. As penalty kicks began, Jesser was selected to take the final shot. While the entire camp looked on, the unlikely hero approached and booted the ball into the back of the net for the winning goal. Without hesitation, all of the older campers rushed the field to surround their new champion. The atmosphere seemed to bring to Belize, at least for a moment, the glory of a World Cup victory.

Over the course of three weeks of camp, we took a front seat view as the Belizean coaches began to understand Jesser’s needs and nurture him accordingly. Through the Sports Servants camp, this rambunctious and often neglected child was able to find many new father figures who will undoubtedly serve as mentors and adopted parents for him in the maturing years that lie ahead of him. And with the emergence of a Sports Servants program in his school in 2009, Jesser now has year-round opportunities to play, grown, and find hope within his community.

If Aneli were born in America, she would probably already be on a track to join the women’s national soccer team. At 11 years old, she has emerged as one of the better players in her village, even among the boys. The beauty of Aneli’s story is that our camps and newly found school program have given her a chance to shine. Whether it’s hanging out with the youth coaches during water breaks or jumping into a boys’ game on her own accord, she delights in the game of soccer. In Summer 2009, an immediate connection was made with 17 year old Hilma–one of our female youth coaches. As a great player herself, Aneli shadowed Hilma’s every move and even got the chance to play in a game alongside her. One of the first to arrive and the last to leave, Aneli is a clear example of how the game of soccer can stir the heart of a child. Throughout the weeks of camp, we saw Aneli’s self-confidence and personality grow. She not only believes she belongs on the field with the boys, but she aspires to be as good as her youth coach Hilma. There is a mutual respect from the boys about Aneli’s ability. They enjoy seeing her passion and beautiful skills as well. As she continues to participate in our programs, we can only see positive results coming from her growth as a child and into a young woman.

Byron is a ten year old in San Antonio village. Born with physical and mental handicaps, he has lived his life in a wheelchair. Though some of his limbs don’t work correctly, and he has trouble processing and speaking, Byron’s heart shines brightly in a dark place. In the four weeks that we worked in San Antonio, Byron grew from a quiet, maligned kid who often sat on the sideline to one who scampers across the field with joy and excitedly enters into soccer games with the other children. When he scampers, he does so using his hands because he cannot walk. When he plays, he does so with a strong left handed hook that bats the ball in its intended direction.

As we concluded our time in San Antonio Village in Summer 2008, we gave each child a Sports Servants “Champion” wristband. Our hope is to reveal to each child that he or she is special and a winner, no matter how skilled they may be. Before we left, one of our volunteers sat down with our friend Byron to help him put his on.

“Mister…I be Champion?” , Byron said as he looked up with his wide, innocent eyes.

“Yes, you are a champion Byron,” the volunteer simply said in reply.

After a few moments Byron asked, “When I be champion?”

“You’ll always be a champion, Byron”

“I be champion. Always a champion,” Byron whispered as he adjusted the wristband to his bony wrist.

For these three children and everyone else who participates in camp, our goal is not about creating great athletes. Its not even about soccer. We see the clear evidence of sports as a unifying medium that brings people together. We feel we have discovered a great way to utilize the Belizean children’s passion for soccer to bring programs that can forever change their lives.