Our world is full of intrigue, deceit, and broken promises. It is merely the nature of things, nothing personal. Grand undertakings often hold dirty little secrets underneath the surface, and promises of happiness and betterment end up being yet another strategy for the powerful few to gain riches at the expense of others.
These words may have a somewhat somber tone and seem pessimistic, but I assure you that the story we are about to tell, the story of young Gabriel, shines a light of hope.
To understand who a single person, and a child at that, can truly make a difference in the war against greed and corporate apathy, we must travel back to 2014, the year when the FIFA World Cup was held in Brazil.
Football, or soccer for all the American readers, is a huge deal for every man, woman and child in Brazil, the nation that boasts 5 World Cup wins, so you can imagine that everyone was ecstatic when news about their country hosting the tournament broke out.
New stadiums where scheduled to be built and new railroads would help transport the population from outside the major urban areas to these glorious stadiums, so that everyone could witness their team going against the toughest opponents on the path to victory and honor. Yes, such is the fervor with which Brazilians, and most nations across the globe celebrate their football heroes – ranking high earns a country a lot of respect worldwide, and sparks up national pride.
However, as Gabriel and his friends and neighbors soon realized, all this exposure and prestige comes at a cost and, ironically, it is not those with an overabundance of wealth to give that are expected to pay the price.
This 14 year old Brazilian boy didn’t have much in the way of riches, but he had a loving family, warm and hospitable neighbors, loyal friends and an intelligent and creative mind. Gabriel and his friends were shocked to hear that over 200 homes were scheduled to be demolished to make way for the railroad that would take zealous foreigners and well-off folks from the cities to the stadiums, and those who were going to be forced to move and have their neighborhoods destroyed could not even afford to buy tickets.
The worst thing is that whole communities and families would be torn apart, the children would have their local football court demolished and old friends would no longer be able run, laugh and play a few games of football together on those warm weekend afternoons. However, Gabriel wasn’t just going to stand by and let some rich old men deny him his right to a fulfilling childhood.
Instead of idly standing by, Gabriel took a camera and went around the neighborhood, documenting the damage that these supposedly glamorous efforts to show off in front of the world had really done to the hard-working low-income Brazilian neighborhoods. He and his friends showed their disdain for the flawed system as they played football on the concrete blocks that had replaced their football field, and ran around the railway tracks that had cut through their neighborhood.
The people were lively and kind-hearted, they still enjoyed watching the games and rooting for their countrymen on the TV the big games unfolded miles away. The children were all of firm spirit – they laughed, they played football, they teased each other and had fun amidst the building material. All of this went on Gabriel’s blog, and he showcased the true nature of these people, and the effects that this clumsy demolition project had on the community.
There was no Hollywood magic, no marketing ploy, no privileged rich white celebrity doing a tear-jerking voice over – these were proud people, good, intelligent and mentally strong children who just wanted the world to understand what was happening under everyone’s noses, so that something could be done about it.
Gabriel interviewed, among others, a brave young boy named Wesley, who had started a project to help the local kids. It is a very memorable experience, to see this little boy talking about all the problems like crime and drugs, his brother’s death being a result of drug abuse, and how the government should have invested more money into building up these communities and providing the children with football fields, better education, fixing the sewage problems.
The boy is young, but Wesley’s eyes glimmer with a wisdom of someone four times his age, and his eloquence is born out of experience and a grim determination to improve the lives of his friends and neighbors. He organized regular football practice on a humble local playground and tried to use sport as a means of keeping kids on the right path.
Taking a page out of Wesley’s book, Gabriel organized local events for the kids, where they could watch, movies, eat popcorn and have fun for free, so that they didn’t have to turn to the violent and self-destructive lifestyle that so many people in these neighborhoods end up turning to.
It is too often that we see children from poor neighborhoods in developing countries get denied some of the basic children’s rights that people in the West all take for granted. It’s not just about Brazil and a single event like the FIFA World Cup, in countries like India a lot of children simply do not receive the adequate quality of education that would allow them to choose a different path, make a career for themselves, break the cycle of poverty and give back to their community.
Among these children there are talented storytellers and bloggers like Gabriel, gifted athletes, young scientists and doctors, creative artists and savvy businessmen – they just need to be allowed to express themselves, find their calling in life and attain their true potential. We would be wise to spend more time talking to our children and actually listening to what they have to say. Children can take initiative and they don’t always need someone else to tell them what’s best for them.
Because the youngsters of the world see things for what they truly are, unburdened by politics and hidden interests, they can often point us to what is really wrong with the system, and help us take steps to fix these problems.
Featured photo credit: Gabriel_mic_1000 via elsvandriel.nl
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