Jesse Sperling, Director of Guatemala Operations, shares the story of our eighth community-driven soccer field project in San Antonio Palopó. If you haven't seen our short documentary about the San Antonio Palopó project, watch it here!
Rounding the hill on the road above Lake Atitlán, San Antonio Palopó slides into view: a colourful mass perched on the side of a corn-covered mountain, sloping downward into clear blue water. When I first arrived in October, it had been raining for months. An unusually long rainy season and a visit by Tropical Storm Agatha had been particularly harsh on the region and, in May, had literally moved the earth: tonnes of mud and rock had hurtled through the centre of town, killing fifteen people in their homes. Over a year later, the destruction is still visible.
By the time it stopped raining, the lake’s waters had risen over nine feet and engulfed the local beach—the one place where children could safely play soccer. Left without a safe place to play, the young sanantoninos staged their games wherever they could: in the streets amid the truck, in the road next to the cemetery and in the courtyard between their classrooms. Nothing could keep them from playing.
Today, a love.fútbol field sits next to the lake, flanked by palm trees and a community-built playground. Locals say la cancha no descansa—the field does not rest. At any given moment, the field is full of running, laughing children of all ages. Boys in dark American clothes and girls in traditional dress dribble, pass and chase after the ball. And while you stand and watch, your eye is swept out to the stunning natural backdrop, across the shining lake and up the ancient trio of volcanoes Lake Atitlán is famous for.
Only months before, that very same spot was a muddy parking lot filled with makeshift shelters for victims of the landslide. The transformation is remarkable: the space is now a hub of community activity, the mire displaced by liveliness and the dejection expelled by laughter.
The community came together to make the project happen. The local school principals Odilio and Marco Antonio, organized teachers and students to volunteer on the field. Parents donated what small sums they could on behalf of their families. Santos and Delvin, local leaders, supported the project with material and financial donations. César, love.fútbol’s Director of Projects in Guatemala, motivated and guided them all.
Now, the children who dodged trucks in the street have a safe place to play. Vehicles rumble safely by on a newly paved road beside it. Physical education teachers have built soccer tournaments into the school’s curriculum. Young girls—many of them playing for the first time—play five-a-side as friends and neighbours cheer them on. The only time the field is quiet is when the floodlights switch off and the moon sets, leaving it too dark to see. Even then, the love.fútbol field does not truly rest, only waits, for the children always come running in the morning.
- Jesse Sperling