Paul LaMancusa Jr. is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Bolívar, Colombia.
The kids don’t care if you didn’t leave your house that day. The kids don’t care that nobody showed up to your class. The kids don’t care that you’ve had a bad week serving in Peace Corps.
Interact with a group of 10-year olds and they will kindly remind you that ignorance is bliss. Their stress levels are near zero and their smiles are contagious. Spend time with them and you will see for yourself. Their schedules are wide open in the afternoon, so don’t worry about finding some free time that they can meet. They’re down for whatever.
In my pueblo, starting around 3:00 p.m. when the scorching sun begins to subside, I cruise around the block on my bike to let the neighborhood kids know we’re playing soccer. They flock to me like I am giving out free ice cream. Without fail, the word spreads like wildfire and enough kids arrive to host a small practice followed by an organized scrimmage. We play for an hour or two before retreating back to our homes at dusk, all worn out. The process starts again the next day when kids hound me inquiring as to when we will have practice again. They say, “¿Pol, vamos a jugar hoy?”
The best care package I have received since starting PC service 18 months ago included a soccer ball, a whistle, cones and some pinnies (scrimmage vest). My dad was my soccer coach growing up, so he sent me these items that had been collecting dust in our basement the last 20 years. They gained new life in Colombia, but this time with me as the coach.
With this simple kit, I host soccer practices for local kids, which offers them an alternative to horsing around in the streets. We gather at the local dirt field, which also hosts the bull fights during the town’s annual patron saint festival. At practice, I keep track of time, assign teams, and even call a foul or two. We play games that I recall from my youth soccer experiences and always end with a scrimmage.
The kids don’t explicitly say “Hey Paul, thanks for doing this”. They don’t have to. I know they appreciate it. It’s my pleasure, anyway. To me, this time is free of work requirements or other daily stress. The kids want to play soccer and I want to coach—simple. These are some of the most novel interactions I have with my community and serve as a source of inspiration to me, even on what can otherwise be a lackluster day.
Dear current PCVs: I’m willing to bet that if something interested you as a kid, you’ll find a willing audience of interested youth in your town to partake. Whether it’s sports, arts, or other pastimes, your enthusiasm is what matters most. It may brighten your day as well as theirs.
Try it out.