Guest post by Joe Plumb
It sounds almost impossible, but it’s true…a group of twelve young footballers, between the ages of 16-18yrs, travelled to the North East of England for a two-week football tour. They had a punishing schedule, playing twelve matches in just fourteen days in the UK, against schools in Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland, Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Bedlington, Ashington, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees, winning ten games and losing two, due to tiredness and adverse weather conditions which made it very difficult for the young Loretans to show their innate talent.
The trip was organized as an intercultural exchange between schools in the North East of England and the work in Iquitos of Joe Plumb, Projects Coordinator of “The Peru Mission”. The lads were looked at by talent scouts from Newcastle United, Manchester United and Middlesbrough FC, and some valuable links were forged for future good relations between football scene in Loreto and the English league sides.
The young Peruvian footballers from “Club Deportivo Angamos Juventud Bellavista“, visited Manchester United’s training ground, Carrington, and met Ecuadorian signing Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick; Korean player, Ji Sung Park and at Newcastle United, the Argentinian, Jonas Gutierrez, who all talked to them about the importance of studying, getting an education, staying out of trouble with alcohol, drugs or gangs, and not forgetting the values taught them by their parents and local communities. They spoke of the importance of being proud of your roots and the poverty you have progressed out of.
“It was great”, says Joe, “…that these successful professional footballers, massive role models for the young footballers, spoke so movingly to young lads from their own Latin American continent about the need for humility mixed with dignity, for responsibility and good citizenship, mentioning responsible parenthood, being sensible and responsible in their actions as regards all that the modern world offers young people…in their case, quick money, fame, drugs, girlfriends. Antonio Valencia spoke about his mother, his brothers and sisters back home in his barrio on the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador, and said that he owed them everything and wanted to make them proud of him by showing people in Europe and the rest of the world that he was a serious, responsible, worldly-wise professional. Better than a thousand talks from me…”
Each of the schools we played against in the UK put up one thousand five hundred pounds for the air-fares and Minsteracres, a local Passionist monastery, gave us the use of their youth centre. We spent two nights in a YMCA too.
Food was provided by local people who made cakes, donated biscuits, bread, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as money which people donated to pay for a mini-bus to get ourselves around in. The main thing was to make sure the lads got a good plateful of rice (cooked with oil, salt and garlic) each day at lunchtime, preferably with chicken or fish, otherwise they were NOT happy-chaps. The schools invited us to lunch each day so we really only had to find the lads’ breakfast and evening meal. If rice wasn’t on the menu in the school, my wife, Gina Melissa, (who’s from Nauta and therefore makes rice just like at home), and myself, had to get up at 5:30am and rustle up a big pan-full of fried rice before we left for our day in a school, playing football and engaging in classes. If we didn’t, I think I’d have had a rebellion on my hands!
Awareness of Environmental and Human Rights Abuses.
In each school we also gave a presentation about Peru and in particular about Loreto-it’s beauty, its’ wealth of natural resources, its’ importance in the global picture and its’ needs and problems.
With the help of a young environmental rights lawyer, GianCarlo Martin Vasquez Flores, we showed a power-point presentation of about 10 minutes which highlighted the problems of contamination of the rivers by the oil companies, (affecting the indigenous peoples’ lifestyles, hunting and fishing), the problem of illegal wood-felling and exportation, the lack of a decent education or health-care system here and other related social problems. The footballers also exhibited a local folklore dance, “The Ayahuasca” or “The Anaconda” and talked about their lives, their families, their beliefs, and their aspirations for the future. In smaller groups the students then got to know each other, despite the language barrier, and discussed the points of similarity and the differences between the two countries-these discussions touched upon faith and belief, social problems which affect both societies such as alienation of youth, marginalization of poorer sections of society, globalization and the multi-nationals, climate change and global warming, the drugs problem-importation/exportation, demand and production…the teachers in the school were amazed at how well-informed and concerned their own students were in these areas! It seems they are not given that much room to discuss their opinions about these issues in the National Curriculum in British schools!
The British Embassy were very helpful with the visa process. We stayed in a large house belonging to some friends in Barranco and trained each day against the local district side whilst we had our interviews, waited for our visas to come through and for the flight date to the UK.
The Trip of a Lifetime
The young players suffered with the cold weather in the North of England, playing some games in the cold and rain wearing gloves, woolly hats and even scarves. They missed home, the tasty food of Loreto, their friends from the “barrio” and their girlfriends, although at the last-night party some friendships were made, as nostalgia took over and even now, one or two of the lads talk to their “English roses” of Messenger or FaceBook on a regular basis. The girls in Lanchester and Consett area were particularly welcoming to the Peruvian footballers, and in a strange adaptation of “Panteleon y Las Visitadoras,” came to visit them at their lodgings on a few occasions, ostensibly to practice their Spanish!
The Birth of a South American Barrio Football Project
Joe Plumb, who is now the Honorary British Consul in Iquitos (Loreto Region), was parish priest of the parish of San Pedro Pescador in Bellavista, Nanay for eight years, from 2000-2008 and that’s where he decided that setting up a local barrio football team was a good option to keep youngsters out of trouble.
“I’d walk around the barrio and see the same young men lying in a hammock or sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of the day. At night, after playing a couple of games of football and winning a sol or two for their plate of “arroz chaufa con huevo” (fried rice and an egg), they’d be drinking cheap aguardiente (neat white spirit) in the disco-bars, getting into knife or machete fights, and despite being without work, they were often fathers by the age of sixteen or seventeen, to girls around the same age. The girls too, would then have to finish their secondary education to have their babies.
We got some of the local folk together to look at these issues and how we could maybe respond. It was mainly the fathers of these lads, and a few local businessmen in Bellavista, and we decided it had to be something that would enthuse the lads, so we started up a team which had been dormant for some years, “Club Deportivo Angamos Juventud Bellavista”.
I wrote to some friends in the UK to help with funding, we looked for some local assistance from businesses and got started, buying a football strip, boots, shin-pads, footballs, and finding a local coach.
The lads are from all over the city and beyond now. “We have a player from CaballoCocha, several from Nauta and a couple who are members of the Bora tribe from Padre Cocha. The majority are from Punchana, Bellavista, El Terminal, San Juan, Morona Cocha, etc…I find the best players, the most physically fit and tenacious are from the barrios” says Joe, who goes along to training most days to let the lads know that, as Club President, he’s keeping an eye on things.
In exchange for turning up for training each day for a month from 2pm-4pm, on the pitch at the back of the Regional Hospital, the lads receive some assistance with their studies.
“In seven years of running the Club, we have turned out around fifty carpenters, solderers, motor-maintenance mechanics, electricians, a technical nurse or two, a couple of heavy-machinery drivers and we have two or three lads at present who are at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP) or at the Scientific University of Peru (UCP), studying Forestry Engineering, Psychology and Hotel and Tourism.
Not every story is a success, some lads have not responded as we would’ve liked and carried on in their gang-member life-style, just drinking, fighting, using drugs and getting girls pregnant. They had to be separated from the Project. It’s tough love, but people don’t make sacrifices and give funds to have some wise-guy laugh in your face,” said Joe, who after eleven years living here, has learnt a lot about the idiosyncrasies of the Amazon people and about the difficulties of working with people living in extreme poverty.
“Sometimes their social circle or family doesn’t let them aspire to better themselves. There’s a lot of jealousy and envy in Peruvian society. If life is going well for someone, there’s never a lack of folk wishing them ill and hoping to see them fail. Also, when you’ve lived hand to mouth all your life, when you have the possibility of climbing up the ladder a bit, it sometimes seems scary and you decide to stick with what you know.
They call it “conformismo” here, sometimes it’s about just being happy and content with what you have, and that’s where maybe Peruvians could teach us Westerners a thing or two; other times it’s the inability to think beyond today and the next meal because you’ve never had the resources to be able to. It’s understandable really.”
We have won the District League in Punchana five times and have won the Provincial Copa Peru twice, once travelling to Requena and once to Indiana, where our pathway to glory was stopped by dubious refereeing and a series of other factors.
“Unlike when you got to play in Europe, success in football here is as much a case of being a step ahead of your opponent off the pitch, as on it,” says Joe, who’s learnt to be just as cunning as the other local league and provincial officials. “In the days before an important game you have to have eyes and ears everywhere, to stay up to date on what tricks the other Clubs might be up to.”
A real history lesson for the whole group, talking about the Vikings, the Normans and the Roman Empire, St.Cuthbert’s tomb and the monastic Christian tradition. They lapped it up and we talked about Henry VIII, the film, “BraveHeart”, and “Harry Potter” (part of it was filmed in the “Quad” at Durham Cathedral). Peruvian history lessons concentrate mainly on South American history understandably, the history of the Inca Empire, and the battles against Chile, with some time, but not much, spent on the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, World War I and II.
Sunday Lunch at My Mum and Dad’s House and “the Pub”
The football tour included social visits, such as Sunday lunch at Joe’s mum and dad’s house, where his family had slogged away all morning to provide salmon, beef and chicken dishes plus vegetables, gravy and all the trimmings, and just in case, a HUGE bowl of rice. The lads ate two or three platefuls and my Mum was over the moon. Then we all went to the local pub with my Dad to watch the Manchester Derby!
St. James’ Park and Old Trafford
Two major highlights of the trip for the lads, mainly from the peripheral suburbs or “barrios” around the City of Iquitos and beyond, were two trips to Newcastle United’s stadium, St.James’ Park and to the “Theatre of Dreams”, Manchester United’s world-renowned stadium Old Trafford.
WILL A TRIP LIKE THIS HAPPEN AGAIN ?
“Everyone asks me if we’re going to repeat such a memorable trip to the UK…it was a lot of work and planning, very, very satisfying for all involved but it is a project which takes a year or so to plan and execute. If someone were to come up with the funding either from here or from the UK, I’d be very happy to make it happen…I was, and am, very proud of my two regions-the North East of England and the North-Eastern corner of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest and enabling people from either reality to enjoy them, and to see the joys and struggles of the people of both continents, is a great privilege. I believe neither culture is better or worse than the other, that life in Europe and the West has its’ fair share of strains and pressures for people who feel driven or obliged to sustain a certain standard of life. The people of the Amazon have a great deal to teach us.
As we’ve seen, Europe is being gripped by fear of not being able to live up to its’ previous affluence and people are very anxious. At the same time, as the Peruvian footballers observed, life in the UK is more ordered, with good roads, rubbish/refuse is collected promptly, schools are well-equipped and teachers get paid on time, hospitals are clean and well-maintained, with prompt service and a National Health Service which (for the moment, at least) attends people regardless of their social class or ability to pay.
The young footballers of “Club Deportivo Angamos Juventud Bellavista” had a great time in the UK but were glad to come home. They noticed a lack of community concern or feeling, an individualism and a desire to have control of one’s life and of things around you, that is not as present here, because life is so much governed by the heat, the rain, the rising and falling of the rivers, the risk of malaria, dengue, or another form of illness, day-to-day concerns about whether the family has enough food, or money to pay study fees, or the electric bill, etc…and I think that breeds an ability to live a lot more in the present, aware of your feelings and those of others, alert to the wiles of nature and Creation.
I know that the trip to North East England was an amazing adventure and a huge event in the lives of these young Loretanos, but at the end of the day, for all they might marvel at the orderliness of a “developed country”, I think that when they honestly weigh things up, they wouldn’t swap places with a teenager there for all the “arroz chaufa” in the world!
Trip to the UK by young footballers from Iquitos
Guest post by Joe Plumb
Bill Grimes here. If you are like me, after reading this article you want to congratulate Joe Plumb. He is setting a great example. Joe’s actions are remarkable, and he tells the story well. If you would like to learn more about Joe, click this link to;