This was scheduled to be our final workshop in Nicaragua. I’ll admit, it had only been three or four days, but at this point I was tired. Not physically tired, but more so in a mental sense. In just a short period of time, we had been exposed to so much poverty and struggle, and no matter how tough a person you are, those experiences can just be so emotionally draining when piled together. But sometimes all it takes is a kick of a soccer ball and an innocent smile to turn that mood around.
After a third visit with the kids of the garbage dump, La Chureca, my good friend Dean dropped us off in Acahualinca. I was accompanied by a new acquaintance of mine, Hunter, who had graciously set up this clinic in the wake of our foiled plan to run one the day before at Academia Los Chombos in Laureles Sur. I was still a bit disappointed that the previous day’s plans had been halted due to an impromptu rainstorm, but today was a new day, and with a new day came a set of new children to make a lasting impression on, so there was certainly no time for wallowing. Hunter informed me that the group we would be working with, called Proyecto Compasion, was a special one. They provided education to disadvantaged kids living in Acahualinca – one of the poorest barrios in all of Nicaragua.
Although school was finished for the day, the kids were having their check-ups done with a local doctor inside the facility, so we patiently waited for our turn to visit with the children. Once that was all sorted, we gathered our things and marched out the front door, towards the closest park. We found a cement grid, completely fenced in from the local traffic. The space was small, but we knew we could work with anything. We began to bring the field to life, setting up goals at each end while the other kids warmed up with passing and dribbling drills. But our progress was soon stopped by a security guard who had been quietly observing us since we had entered the park. He informed Hunter that with the other park-goers sitting around with their phones in their hands, it would be a dangerous combination alongside our soccer balls flying in all different directions. Knowing that causing trouble was the last thing we wanted to do, we complied and decided to pick-up shop and find an alternate playing location.
As we walked through the streets, I noticed that the kids were growing more and more eager to play, so I prayed that we would find something soon. We found ourselves traversing all sorts of different terrain, going from gravel to dirt, even a plot lined with garbage and horses. Finally, we had reached our destination, a huge open field with two large goal frames at each end. One of the younger boys told me he was a “portero” (goalkeeper) so I jokingly told him to go stand at one of the goals. Now, these were regulation-sized 8×24 foot goals, so you can imagine how funny it was to see this little boy, no taller than 4 feet in stature, standing in this monster of a net.
Lucky for him, we would be playing on a small subset of the field, with much smaller goals. We quickly split up into three teams: blue, green, and los blancos. We got right down to playing, in a first-goal-wins format. Personally, I think the luckiest team was the one not on the field…because with the playing space being completely exposed to the sunlight during high noon, at least those who were resting got to enjoy the comfort and shade of the only tree on the entire field. My team was pretty good, so I was excited to get to work. We enjoyed our share of success on the field, grabbing a few victories with losses scattered throughout. While we waited between games, I took some time to teach ground moves and freestyle tricks to my players. One boy was so adamant on learning to do an around the world and got close to completing one many, many times. However, he showed me he was already proficient at doing hop the worlds, so I knew that with just a little more practice he would have these other moves down.
After lots of games and a whole lot of goals, it was time to head back to the facility. We gathered the soccer balls and goals and departed the field. I decided to let one of the administrators keep the set of goals so that the kids could use them whenever they played football, something I had always wanted to do and plan to continue doing on each of my visits henceforward. After a refreshing ice water and a frozen chocolate banana, it was time to say goodbye to the kids. We had shared an awesome time on the field, but I really enjoyed the time I got to spend just sitting in the shade talking to them. After a brief introduction from Hunter, I told the children a little bit more about myself and what I do in terms of teaching football to kids all over the world. I told them about the importance of practicing on the field and studying hard in the classroom, all in Spanish of course. I was thankful for their attentiveness and for their time, especially considering how blistering hot the weather was. As I enjoyed the rest of my snacks, I reflected on the wonderful time I had spent here in Nicaragua, knowing that I would someday return.