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Rocio Bello Bautista, 15, builds resilience through street football in Peru

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Fifteen-year-old Rocio and her friends take a break from the game at a playground in Villa El Salvador, Peru.

NEW YORK, USA – On a gloomy Thursday afternoon after classes end, Rocio Vanessa Bello Bautista, 15, has no time to waste. She is on her way to a local playground in Villa El Salvador, Peru, to start a football match.

“I play football every day after school,” says Rocio, as she takes a break from the game on a concrete pitch that serves as a football field and basketball court. “What do I like about football? I like to inspire people, I like to inspire girls, I like to kick and control the ball!”

Villa El Salvador, a sprawling urban settlement, is home to over 300,000 people. In the 1970s, poor migrants were resettled to this desert prairie 19 km from Lima without access to basic services or external support. Poverty and unemployment are still common in the shantytown. Many adults travel to Lima daily in search of jobs, often leaving children on their own.

A safe place to play

Until recently, Rocio and her friends struggled to find a safe place to play sports. In the poorest quarters of Villa El Salvador, the streets were often dominated by gangs fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

Though impoverished, Villa El Salvador is famous as a model of self-governance. Reclaiming the streets for recreation is one of the community’s key goals.

Rocio plays as a forward on a team run by Deporte y Vida, a programme that fosters social integration and community through sports.

Deporte y Vida (Sport and Life), the programme where Rocio plays football, uses sport to promote education and foster a sense of community among children at risk – as well as providing them with a safe play space. Five of these programmes exist throughout Peru, working with about 1,400 girls and boys.

For Rocio, football is more than a sport; it is an opportunity to make friends and build confidence. “I think that football changed my life in a way, made me happier,” she says. “Now I am more open with people. I used to be a very shy and quiet girl.”

Next to the playground where practice and street football tournaments are held, there is a room where children rest and do their homework. “When I grow up I would like to become a secretary,” asserts Rocio, “or study to become a tourist guide for those who come to visit Peru.”

Football as a pathway to peace

Since the football tournaments started, Rocio says, there is not as much violence in Villa El Salvador. “Sport has helped a lot with the street gangs because children become more enthusiastic about sports than violence,” she explains.

Rocio and the other young football players do not have uniforms or a large football fields for training. Instead, street football is about the spirit of everyone joining the game. “What I like most about playing as a forward,” she says, “is to pass the ball to other girls, without discriminating against anyone because she does not know how to play or because she doesn’t kick well.”

A team of teenagers from Deporte y Vida will participate in the first Street Football World Championship, which runs from 2 to 8 July in Berlin, parallel to the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The young street footballers competing in the games come from social projects in 24 countries that use football as a pathway to peace and development.

Rocio’s favourite football player is Ronaldinho, and she hopes the team from Brazil wins the World Cup. “When you play football, it cheers you up, no matter whether you win or lose,” she says, getting ready to rejoin the match.


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Rocio Vanessa Bello Bautista, 15, explains how playing street football has improved her and others’ lives in Villa El Salvador, Peru.
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