By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – NGO non-profit organization, Street Child United, and Chevrolet inaugurated a community football (soccer) pitch and a playground in the Complexo da Penha favela in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) on Saturday, May 30th. The installations will give children in the community a safe place to play and enjoy themselves.
Former Seleção world champion and Arsenal player Gilberto Silva attended the event as an ambassador for the charity. Having such a pitch “is important, because you give the children a space to play, to dream and to have fun. And also to socialize within their community. If there is nothing like this, it will open up space for other [worse] things. Now, they have everything they need, they just need to take care of it,” Silva told The Rio Times.
The football pitch and the playground are located on the Morro do Caracol hill in the Complexo da Penha, a community close to Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão, where shootings between the police and drug trafficking gangs have become an almost daily occurrence recently, affecting the Caracol community as well.
“The streets aren’t safe. The pitch is a safe place for the children to play. They face extreme violence with the shootings that happen every day. Here they are safe. We are committed to the rights of children at risk of the streets,” Joe Hewitt, director of the Street Child United charity in Brazil told The Rio Times.
The pitch and the playground are sponsored by American car manufacturer Chevrolet, who will also employ three coaches to conduct daily football training sessions. Two of the coaches are former drug trafficking soldiers and one is a member of the Street Child World Cup winning girls’ team from the Favela Street program.
The pitch was built with the agreement of the local residents’ association, the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) and even the drug trafficking gangs, who all agreed that the pitch will remain off limits, so the children can play safely. “[The pitch] is an important legacy of the Street Child World Cup. Chevrolet was already a sponsor at the Street Child World Cup and we are delighted to continue the work with them,” Hewitt continued.
It is a state-of-the-art artificial turf pitch, built instead of a former rubble square, which couldn’t be used anymore. It is closed off for non-residents as the keys to access it will be in the hands of the residents’ association, which are to take care of the pitch.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by children from all over the community, who were delighted to have a new place to play. Two coaches from Coaches Across Continents showed them some dribble moves with their new Chevrolet balls, while others could fly kites and play hula hoop.
During the inauguration ceremony, two coaches and former players from the Street Child World Cup Brazil girls team spoke about their experience. Drika explained: “The old pitch was horrible. It is a dream now to be here, I am so happy.” While World Cup coach Jéssica added, “where there is a game, there are possibilities.”
Additional to the pitch and playground, Chevrolet will take two girls of the Street Child World Cup girls team to Manchester in August to be mascots at Manchester United’s first home game of the new Premier League season.
The Complexo da Penha, where the pitch is located, is formed by the Grotão and the Vila Cruzeiro complexes and is home to almost 50,000 residents according to 2010 data from the Pereira Passos Institute. There are four different UPP stations in the area, Chatuba, Fé/Sereno, Vila Cruzeiro and Parque Proletário da Penha, all of which were inaugurated in 2012.
Shootings have increased in the area since a motorbike taxi driver was shot by police in February of this year and confrontations between rivaling drug gangs have increased in the area, as well as in other parts of Rio.