The Transformative Power of Play
Written By: German Arguelles
Soccer is more than a game, it is a universal language that allows us to explore and connect by transcending every barrier. In this sense, and before I continue writing, notice that for the rest of this article I will refer to soccer as the “beautiful game,” a term not invented by me, but has a deep impact on my life.
Perhaps my story is nothing special, but I was asked to share about my recent visit to Lesotho, and so I set out to write a few lines about my vision of the transformative power of the beautiful game.
I’m originally from Asturias and was part of an adolescent generation hit hard by systemic industrial restructuring in the late 80s and early 90s. In this time of economic and social crisis, depression gripped the youth, and lack of employment opportunities pushed many into migration. Unfortunately, a large number of those who could not find employment or emigrate took refuge in drugs, alcohol, depression and even suicide.
Fortunately, for me with a mix of family upbringing, serendipity, faith, perseverance, and sheer survival instincts, the beautiful game allowed me to attend university in the United States on an athletic scholarship. The beautiful game was the vehicle to an academic education that later would open the door to the labor market, and eventually become my business project and my life’s mission.
My trip to the United States soon turned into a tool of social integration, a springboard for understanding other cultures, discovering new worlds and connecting with countless people on a deeper level of understanding.
The influence of this experience has been so important in my personal development; that I decided to abandon a promising career in the corporate world to start my own venture in the soccer world. More than 10 years ago, I co-founded my own company (generation adidas international / eSoccer) in the field of international travel for groups, mainly young people between 11 and 18 years, but also college and professional teams. The idea of the company was to teach life skills through international cultural and sports exchanges, and thus try to make these experiences an inspiration for a lifetime of respect and tolerance for other human beings.
The beautiful game has allowed me to travel to more than 40 countries, and meet wonderful people who spend their days teaching sports and focusing on youth development. In order to bring this experience to places that need it most, my company and the world’s largest network of NGOs (streetfootballworld / 110 in more than 70 countries) have joined forces to create a new organization (the third half) that allows our travelers to visit and learn from the extraordinary work of many NGOs.
Recently I have been very fortunate to learn about the work of one of these organizations (Kick4Life), specializing in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in the country that could soon have the greatest number of people infected with this disease in the world: Lesotho.
I visited Kick4Life in early February 2016 and spent a week in Lesotho getting to know this beautiful country in the mountains surrounded by South Africa (a.k.a. The Kingdom in the Sky). This wonderful country has a population of around 2 million people with a life expectancy of 40 years. In the past decade HIV/AIDS infection levels have continued to with about 500,000 orphans and vulnerable children at risk of contraction. It is estimated that approximately 50% of women under the age of 40 carry the virus.
In this bleak context, Kick4Life, however, is a global reference and the most effective prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS infection in the country. The beautiful game as an excuse has allowed them to train more than 40,000 children and young people and tested 8,000 at risk of HIV/AIDS, many of them beginning treatment, and learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives.
The successful intervention of Kick4Life has led the organization to also build a professional club for men and women. The teams compete in the Lesotho Premier League, the top division for football in Lesotho. The club is an aspiration for children and young people, and in order to provide financial sustainability to their programs, they have also developed various initiatives promoting social entrepreneurship, such as a hotel and a restaurant (ranked number 1 in the country by TripAdvisor). These initiatives more significantly are an employment opportunity and an entrepreneurial inspiration for young people participating in their programs.
My recent visit to Lesotho is the first step to start bringing students, young professionals, businesses or even families with children to see and experience the work of Kick4Life. We hope that all people traveling with us, fall in love with the overwhelming nature and culture of Lesotho, and more importantly to become lifelong ambassadors of the amazing work of Kick4Life.