Empowerment through sport – A visit to Teresina with Plan International

Posted 27.06.2019

Plan International is a global children’s charity that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Perform has been partnered with them since 2013 and is currently supporting their Empowerment Through Sport initiative in Teresina, Brazil which uses the power of football to promote gender equality and better relationships between girls and boys. Earlier this month, members of the Perform team went out to see the project in action. Maria Rowe, VP Marketing & Business Development, shares her takeaway from the trip.

By Maria Rowe, VP Marketing & Business Development, Perform

Last October, I completed a sponsored half-marathon walk on behalf of Plan International. Although I love a good workout at the gym, there is a special hate chamber in my heart for walking and/or running in the Singapore heat and humidity – A 21km walk is 3 times my average step daily step count! That said, seeing Plan International’s work in action made the heat, sweat and blisters all worth while. It was an action-packed three days – equal parts exhausting, rewarding and emotional. I had been to villages in South-East Asia, India and Ghana on voluntary projects in my university years, but it was a humbling reality-check to do it again at this age alongside colleagues who, like me, have perhaps been in the corporate world for too many years.

Meeting the communities

The communities taking part are about an hour away from the Teresina city and all welcomed us with open arms. They were quick to share stories about workshops and initiatives which are giving members of a community rife with high unemployment rates and poor access to infrastructure and education a new-found purpose. One hour from Teresina may not sound very far but when you consider that most locals don’t have access to their own transport and the buses to/from the city were infrequent, it makes it very difficult to commute into the city where high schools and the bulk of job opportunities are.

This is particularly pertinent for the women. Classes in schools of higher learning are held at night, making it dangerous for them to travel in and out of barely-lit rural areas after dark. This meant that opportunities for a lot of young women are limited, particularly in terms of education and sport. Brazil may be a football-mad nation but with pitches traditionally reserved as a place for males to gather, many women still find sport difficult to access. With the help of Plan Brazil, these women have found themselves more and more comfortable in asking for access and are now campaigning to get lighting infrastructure installed so that teams can play and train after sunset.

Finding their voice

At the start of our visit, we visited a Champions of Change workshop where the women commanded the room with talks on their rights and how different they feel since they started this journey. It’s difficult to put into words what we experienced, many of us were immediately feeling lumps in our throats upon entering the room.

We were fortunate enough to have women from different areas of our own organisation there and being addressed as if we were the inspiring ones in the room was incredible, little did they know that it was us who were amazed at their determination to speak up and speak freely. The programme has helped them all to build the confidence needed to stand in front of a room full with peers and strangers – a testament to how successful the programme has been.

The next day, we attended a regional competition organised by Plan Brazil. We arrived to 300 screaming young men and women waiting for us to take the stage and share the tiny bit of Portuguese we could muster between us. The quality of football was great throughout the day, even in the intense Teresina heat that only seemed to get hotter, but the camaraderie between teammates and teams was something else. Most communities were represented by both a men’s and women’s team, all of whom were vocal in their support for one another throughout.

The people and their stories

The biggest takeaway from the trip were the conversations we had with the people in these communities. Most could only speak Portuguese so a translator was there to help us along but that didn’t take away the impact of the words we shared and heard throughout our three days.

“I used to play football when I was younger. I was a goalkeeper. I stopped for a long time. When this competition came around, I decided to coach both the men’s and women’s team from our community. I wasn’t sure if the boys would accept me as their coach, but they did. Our boys came in second in the competition in the end. When we returned home last night, power was down in my house so I hadn’t heard from everyone since the Final. This morning, I checked my phone and it’s full of really nice messages from all the boys and all their families. I can’t believe it. I won’t give up on football now. Not again.”

Female Coach, Adult, Coach of Men’s Runner-Up Team and Daughter an Active Participant

 “ Two things are important to me. My new boots and my phone. Equally important.”

Participating teenager from the winning women’s team

“For 7 years Perform and Plan International have partnered together to deliver life-changing projects for children in India and Brazil, using the power of sport to improve education and tackle gender inequality. Thanks to the dedicated fundraising and support of our amazing Charity Champions at Perform, the Empowerment through Sport project is transforming how girls are seen and treated within the community.

“It was a pleasure to take the Perform team to visit the young people in Teresina and see how their incredible fundraising efforts have made such a difference – as well as joining in with some of the football! A huge thank you from everyone at Plan International for Perform’s fantastic support.”  

Plan International

Building for the future

In rural Teresina, football is bringing spread-out communities together, helping young women to find their voice in a society that doesn’t always put them first and offering them a renewed sense of purpose. That spirit and togetherness can then be put into fighting for better infrastructure, access to education and eventually finding sustainable employment, so that the cycle of poverty can be broken and these wonderful people we met can live life to their true potential. And a bit of football in between couldn’t hurt!

To find out more about the work of Plan International, visit their website.