There are times when football becomes more than a sport. For some it is just a fun activity, whilst others treat it as a gateway to a better life. One thing football can be, however, is a means to achieve peace. In the Philippines, there is such an advocacy called Football For Peace.
Football For Peace is an initiative started by members of the Philippine Marine Corps to promote peacefulness in certain areas of Mindanao. The initiative uplifts the lives of families and whole communities in war-torn places. A loyal partner of this advocacy is United Football League team Loyola Meralco Sparks Football Club.
“Basically for Football For Peace, we’ve been working with them for as long as Meralco Sparks has been around. We’ve been trying to do more and more over the years to help them out,“ stated Meralco team manager Armand Del Rosario, who then added that there are plans to organize an event before 2017.
One of the co-founders of Football For Peace, Rookie Nagtalon, shared some of the activities accomplished by the initiative. Nagtalon stated that they had ventured into Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao with some of the Sparks, where they helped children whose lives were disrupted by war. He added, “We’re bringing them back to the fold through the use of the sport.”
Part of the Sparks contingent that went to Tawi-Tawi was assistant team manager Belay Fernando. Fernando, Sparks coach Simon McMenemy, and a few players joined the Marines and Nagtalon to the said place. Upon reflection, Fernando felt it was a two-way experience for the Sparks.
“I know how they’re saying a lot about how we were able to help the kids and how it was their first time to do this and that especially when they came here but I think it was also a very enriching experience for our players. I think they were able to see how football is really able to change lives of these kids. Not just the kids actually, even their families,“ Fernando explained. She added that Zamboanga is a potential venue for Football For Peace.
It is not only in so-called “conflict areas” that Football For Peace has operated. In fact, the initiative brought children from Mindanao to Metro Manila. Philippine Marine Corps Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said, “It’s a great experience for them. Having those children coming from different conflict areas down south in Mindanao bringing them here in Manila is something to be cherished and would be remembered maybe for the rest of their lives.”
Aside from Capt. Lacuesta, Capt. Caesar Ryan Gandeza was one of the representatives of the Philippine Marine Corps. Capt. Gandeza was one of the pioneers of this initiative. From a simple pick-up game of football he played with his fellow Marines, the initiative grew to this extent in around five years. He called the progress overwhelming and noted the Marines’ appreciation for the initiative’s growth and fame.
Capt. Gandeza shared, “Activities like this, more people like you help make our jobs a lot more easier. It’s all hands on deck on contributing to maintaining the peace in Sulu and other conflict areas in the south and on behalf of my troops before who started this Football For Peace and also for the whole of the Marine Corps, thank you so much for sharing our story, for being part of this endeavor with us.”
While peace in the Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines may seem distant, it’s nice to see Meralco and the Philippine Marines band together to promote football and most especially, uplift lives. More initiatives like Football For Peace will go along way in bridging the gap between Filipinos.