Those voices were becoming unbearable. “Asa ka naglaag, nag Dota na sad ka?” (“Where have you been? Playing Dota again?”) “Still in front of the computer? Go and do something more useful!”
Just beside our Bukas Palad Social Center, children and adolescents were spending much, if not most, of their time, on computer games. They were willing to forego their meals just to keep on playing.
All their savings were swallowed up there. Mothers were becoming alarmed. They did not know how to stop their kids. I knew I could not just be a passive bystander. I needed to do something. But what?
One day, I met Lani, together with her boyfriend Alvin, a football player. They were playing football together. I heard that they were really good and that they enjoyed the game a lot! An idea came. Why don’t we teach our young people how to play football? Lani and Alvin could be their coaches.
Without wasting time, I asked if they were willing to share their time and talent with the poor children in the neighborhood, and their enthusiasm was overwhelming. We soon got organized.
Thirty-five boys and girls wanted to try it out. Every Saturday morning, from 6:00 to 11:00, our coaches trained the would-be athletes. Their parents were cooperative, willing to wake up early so that the children would be ready at such an early hour. Some gave up their cigarettes and liquor to save money for the children’s snacks.
Bukas Palad monitored the activity closely. Our motto was “Sports for Unity.” It didn’t matter who won or lost. It was playing fairly that counted. We were not to hurt anyone during the game just to win, and each one had to be a good sport. Everyone had fun! Then the invite came.
We were to take part in a football tournament during the Kadayawan festivities. You cannot imagine the excitement that ensued! We found a name for our team: the Bukas Palad Football Team (BPFT). That was all we had, plus the six-months training that the children took quite seriously. They had no uniforms then, nor proper shoes for football.
When Vemar, one of the players wearing a pair of school shoes, kicked a ball, one of his shoes flew off. All this, however, did not dampen their spirits. Just the fact that they were playing in a real football field was an enormous gift for them. It was true also for me, for having succeeded in prying them away from the computer games! But the story does not end here.
Glaiza, one of the coaches who later joined the group, spoke to the chairman of the company where she works about her outreach activity in Bukas Palad, and specifically, about the plight of this new and poor football team.
The chairman became so interested and involved in the project that he felt the children needed to be encouraged and given a sense of identity. The first thing to do to achieve this, he thought, was to provide them with a uniform.
He quickly found sponsors for this! Another donation helped them buy football shoes. The parents were so enthusiastic about the project that they helped in any way they could, trying to find ways to save to support the children, not only during the games, but also during their training sessions.
Then a father offered his jeepney to transport the children to the training field. The weekly exercise transformed the once malnourished and thin children into stronger athletes who were able to develop their playing skills. Last May, they were invited again to participate in a tournament during the Summer Football Festival entitled D’Davao Survivors.
Now they were playing against strong teams like the Ateneo de Davao, Hyenas, Sakya, SOS, Davao City High School, Bago Gallera, Anak Digos and ComVal, but that did not matter. This time, they were wearing their blue Bukas Palad uniforms with each one’s names at the back.
They had gained more self-confidence and had learned the techniques of football, but their playing code had not changed: play fairly, do not hurt the others when playing, love your enemies—meaning those who try to hurt you, and be a good sport.
The outcome of the games was an unexpected surprise! The girls, 10 to 12 years of age, won the second prize, while the boys aged 6 to 10 got the first place! The Bukas Palad athletes could not believe it! They actually won competing against players from the different provinces and even against… Ateneo! Their parents could not hold back tears of joy.
Clearly, this was much more rewarding for the children than spending the whole day before a computer playing animated games!
Marietta D.Pensader, as told to Nilda Castro