Sports as an instrument of Change
Aberje held a Zoom meeting with Raí and Sóstenes Oliviera, who run the non profit Gol de Letra Foundation. In attendance were members of Aberje, Lidercom and journalists.
Established 25 years ago, the foundation offers children and young adults from disadvantaged communities, programs that enhance education, family unity and promote community development. The name Gol de Letra was inspired by the concept of combining sports and education. Their belief is that sports should be an integral part of a child’s development as it fosters inclusion, social interaction, values and respect for diversity.
The idea for the foundation was originally conceived of by Raí, a former Brazilian professional soccer star. As a member of the Brazilian national team for over a decade, Raí was part of the country’s 1994 World Cup victory. He spent most of his career with São Paulo and Paris Saint-Germain. Sóstenes Oliveira, Raí’s brother, is the director of the foundation.
Hamilton do Santos, Aberje’s Director, introduced Raí and spoke about the association between Aberje and Gol de Letra and their shared interest in transforming society through a commitment to social responsibility and providing equal opportunities for all.
Raí began by speaking about his career as a soccer player and his interest in community service. He believes in the transformative effect that sports can have on society and that his position as a professional athlete has given him the opportunity to make a difference.
Recalling his time in France, he talked about the Brazilian housekeeper and her daughter who accompanied his family to a small town on the periphery of Paris. Raí, who led a privileged life as a soccer star, was struck by the fact that in France, a country with a more developed social support system than in Brazil, the housekeeper’s daughter was able to attend the same school and see the same doctor as his own children. This experience inspired him to think about how he could contribute by providing opportunities for people from vulnerable communities.
After playing in France, Raí moved back to his native country where he began to build his foundation in Sao Paulo and later in Rio de Janeiro.
When Gol de Letra began, there were only 100 children and young adults. Over the years, the foundation has grown and more than 27,000 young people have attended the program. The foundation has also shared its knowledge and methods with organizations and schools in other regions of the country.
Raí talked about the importance of giving the youth in these communities a sense of value and purpose. He mentioned that after spending time in the program some of the young adults began to feel it was their “right” to have the same opportunities as others have.
Gol de Letra holds various programs in Rio and Sao Paulo that help children and young adults grow to be productive and valuable citizens in the community. Some of the projects are:
- The Open Game project is a comprehensive training program for children, adolescents and teens between the ages of 6 and 17. The program offers after school practice in Judo, Futsal, Tennis, Table Tennis, and Rhythmic Gymnastics. To ensure female participation in sports, the program allocates at least 40% of its places to girls. There are also workshops, exhibitions and tournaments.
- The Youth Program aims to contribute to the development and life skills of adolescents and young people between the ages of 14 and 21, by expanding cultural, social and professional awareness.
- Caju Community Library offers a space with various educational and leisure opportunities for young people and adults. In addition, the library offers literary events and other cultural activities. During the pandemic they hosted readings, storytelling and other events on Instagram.
- Goal for Equality is an effort to promote gender equality and equity. Increasing the participation of girls in sports is also a goal of the program.
- Brazil – France Exchange is a program that brings students from the French organization Sport dans La Ville to visit the Gol de Letra Foundation and sends Brazilian students to France. The interaction between the students allows them to meet people from other countries and learn about different cultures.
Hamilton asked about the difficulty of entering vulnerable communities where there is often crime and violence. Raí answered that every community is different. It’s important to be direct and open, gain their respect and adapt to the reality on the ground. He recounted that one day he had parked his car in the neighborhood and someone took the stereo from inside the car. Instead of calling the police he spoke to the nearby doorman who told him not to worry. The next day the stereo was returned.
The question of the foundation’s communication strategy came up. The two brothers mentioned that in addition to the internal staff, outside communication agencies have also contributed.
When asked about programs for female soccer, Raí explained that the foundation is committed to ensuring that girls have the same opportunities in sports as boys. He noted that among the many positive benefits of this commitment to gender equality was a new sense of respect between the boys and girls.
In a comment during the meeting, Paul Nassar, President of Aberje, expressed his appreciation for the outstanding work that Gol de Letra is doing:
“At a time when young people and their families feel vulnerable, it is important that we create and value spaces of encouragement and solidarity in the areas of sports, education and the arts. This is what the Gol de Letra Foundation is all about: support, training and solidarity.”
At the end of the meeting, Raí told a touching story about a young girl who ran in a race while members of Gol de Letra cheered her on. After finishing in second place, she thanked her coach and began to cry. The coach asked her why she was crying. Was it because she was disappointed that she didn’t come in first, or happy that she came in second? The girl calmed down and said, “No, it’s because I’ve never had so many people in my life cheering for me.”
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