Mercy Corps hosts Colombian youth soccer coaches for knowledge exchange

Colombia, June 12, 2014

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Local civic groups and Portland Timbers soccer team offer training and coaching for violence prevention and peacebuilding among youth

PORTLAND, Ore. – The global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps will host a delegation of soccer coaches from Colombia June 21-28 at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon, as part of the organization’s signature Sport for Change programming. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited Division, the program aims to build the skills of community coaches and leaders working with at-risk youth in developing countries to prevent violence and promote peacebuilding.

“Decades of civil strife have taken a toll on Colombia’s youth and torn the country apart. Today there are some 18,000 child soldiers, of which one quarter are under the age of 18,” says Maria Fernanda Cruz, Mercy Corps Colombia’s Program Manager for Women and Children. “Soccer has an incredible unifying force that creates a healthy and fun outlet for youth to connect, build their confidence and lead positive change within their communities.”

The Sport for Change program will reach more than 1,400 vulnerable young boys and girls from three of the most impoverished and conflict-ridden areas of Colombia, where youth are at high risk for recruitment into illegal armed groups.

During the one-week knowledge exchange, the visiting coaches will meet with a variety of local organizations working with marginalized youth and the Latino community. Up2Us, a non-profit that specializes in sports-based youth development, will provide training on how to manage violent behavior, help youth make healthy choices and use sports to practice conflict resolution and community development. Participants will also attend a skill-building workshop held by the Portland Timbers coaching staff and a Timbers match at Providence Park.

“The coaches are excited to learn different approaches for reaching at-risk youth, as well as hone their technical soccer skills to have a greater impact when they return to their villages,” says Cruz.

Prior to arriving in Portland, the Colombian coaches participated in a Mercy Corps-developed curriculum focused on reaching ex-combatant youth. Sport for Change expands Mercy Corps’ extensive youth program in Colombia, which has benefited 6,750 young boys and girls since 2007.

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About Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps is a leading global humanitarian agency saving and improving lives in the world’s toughest places. With a network of experienced professionals in more than 40 countries, we partner with local communities to put bold ideas into action to help people recover, overcome hardship and build better lives.