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Football helps Ivna Chérie, 11, forget violence in Haiti

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©UNICEF Haiti/2006/Linton
Footballer Ivna Chérie, 11, and her schoolmates wait for their match to start at a stadium on the edge of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

For the 2006 FIFA World Cup, UNICEF and FIFA are campaigning to ensure a more peaceful world for children. This is a profile of one of Team UNICEF's star players.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – On a sweltering Saturday morning when many Haitians are staying out of the sun, Ivna Chérie is playing football with her schoolmates on the marram pitch of a dilapidated stadium outside the capital, Port-Au-Prince.

Eleven-year-old Ivna has been playing twice a week for close to a year since she and her aunt, Germaine Chérie, had to leave their home in the inner-city neighbourhood of Nazon due to an upsurge in gang violence. Ivna says she used to stay awake at night in her old neighbourhood and was often afraid to go into the street because of shoot-outs and kidnappings.

She and her aunt moved to a hillside sprawl of tiny cinder-block homes joined by narrow passageways in the Bois Monquette suburb. They share the house with an uncle and his five children. The largest room is about eight by ten feet with a double bed, a blurry TV, piles of books and knick-knacks on tables and shelves, holy pictures on the walls and a clothesline overhead. There is no running water and the electricity can go off for three days at a time.

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© UNICEF Haiti/2006/Linton
Ivna practices before a Saturday morning game.

School offers football

Germaine is stoical. “It’s difficult but when you don’t have anything, you have to resign yourself to living like this,” she says.

One of her worries when she moved to Bois Monquette was finding a school for Ivna. She could not afford fees because the print shop where she had worked in Nazon closed down. But she says she was lucky because a family friend got Ivna into a free church school nearby.

Besides a good academic curriculum, the Timkatek school offers football, which appeals to Germaine, a long-time fan of the Brazilian national football team – especially stars Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

“I always said that if I was bringing up a boy or a girl I would want them to play football,” she says. “I would encourage Ivna to continue playing because it could give her a chance to travel and see other countries, and get access to things she wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Learning fair play

Germaine, who is unmarried, brought Ivna to live with her from the countryside where Ivna’s parents were farm workers and often had to leave her at home by herself. Germaine says she is strict because she does not want her niece to become promiscuous – a real threat in a country where decades of conflict have left people so poor that many girls turn to sex work to survive.

Timkatek football coach Fritz Cariotte believes the game has an important social lesson for children brought up in a society with a history of brutality and injustice: “Football teaches them to forgive each other when they get hurt instead of reacting with violence. They learn fair play.”

Football may be helping compensate for the tough life Ivna has faced so far. “She is happier,” says teacher Sophia Pierre, who helped Germaine get Ivna into Timkatek. “I notice she’s happy even when she’s watching football, not to mention when she’s playing.”

Ivna confirms that assessment. “Football makes me feel better,” she says. “It helps me not to think about the bad things that are happening out there in the world.”


 

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