I recently had the opportunity to visit Colombia, travel the countryside, spend time with some inspiring kids and give back (via soccer/fashion). I feel like I got way more than I gave and came home with much more than a new perspective on life.
My friends Andy Stein and his wife Dilia Jelen (Orphan Starfish Foundation) lead the way. They help over 9,500 children in 46 programs in 21 countries! They are dedicated to working with orphans, victims of abuse and at-risk youth. OSF’s mission is to foster lasting change in the lives of the children they serve by giving them the opportunity to develop vocational skills through computer technology and gain employment that will enable them to overcome the cycle of poverty and abuse.
Our journey started out in Bogota, at an orphanage named “Amparo de Niños Granja Loyola” (The Protection of Children). The 65+ kids we met there had a lot of energy, were well mannered and very eager to learn. Unfortunately, harsh abuse is typically associated with each kid’s past, but you would never know it when interacting with them. The extremely professional staff helps facilitate an incredible structure that fills every day with classes, sports, arts, and everything else a young mind could desire. This prepares the kids for life after 18 years of age. The result is success. Most kids from this facility go to college, find stable jobs, get married and live a productive life. All of the love and support provided by OSF is a big reason for this.
They had a very nice (full) soccer field and I think only one soccer ball. We brought a bag full of balls, donated by Niky’s Sports, that we used and then left behind for the kids. They were ecstatic!
Rather than just play a big 11 v 11 game, where players wouldn’t get that many touches, we did a mini clinic and then split up into a couple small-sided games. I was really impressed with the level of play! Most kids were technically sound and had a very good understanding of the game. It’s obvious they play and watch a lot of soccer. Everyone worked hard, worked well together, listened well (through an interpreter) and learned fast. I really enjoyed my time with this group and wish it was longer.
Each kid got at least a shirt or sweater or pair of socks. Some got one of each. They were all extremely appreciative!
Our next stop was a place called “La Solución Está en Tus Manos” (The Solution is in Your Hands), located in Choco. This area is the poorest and most dangerous in Colombia. It’s run by drug lords and is lawless in certain parts. The local sentiment is that the rest of Colombia has turned its back on the people here and don’t want anything to do with it. The orphanage was supposed to accomodate 300 kids, but word got out that we were coming and over 600 kids showed up. When we arrived, we heard loud cheering in the small 500-square-foot room that all the kids were crammed into. The cheers were very surreal. They were for us. The kids went crazy when we walked in.
I only speak a little Spanish and the kids don’t speak English, but luckily soccer is a universal language. All we needed was a ball. Not perfect grass or expensive jerseys or orange slices or state of the art cleats. The ball movement, the off the ball movement, the spacing, the eye contact, the communication was all an understanding without words.
Thanks to James Bond (Undefeated) and Jay Serbe for donating bags full of clothes and hats for the kids.
This was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Very emotional. I saw a world that for most only exists on TV. Areas without electricity or running water, people who are lucky to get one meal a day and 12-year-old kids — with kids. I saw an abundance of love and community but with a scarcity of material things. I felt nothing but warm vibes and a oneness that’s hard to verbalize.
I have a new appreciation, not just for the little things in life, but for some of the big things too. Some things we might regularly be grateful for, but maybe not as much as we should be. Some things, that without a reminder, we gradually take for granted. Like, family, clothes, opportunity, shelter, freedom, clean water, safety, food, health, hope and the list goes on.
Photos and videos with Seth in them, by Kelly Fogel. Photos without Seth in them, by Seth.