"A week is not a long time to spend in a place. Engaging with new people and places through competition, however, can slice through language and cultural and social differences to find the common denominators that make us human." Dhani Jones, The Sportsman
Jones said it right, although we have only been here a few days and will not stay long, it is really amazing how the act of sport can unite completely different people from completely different walks of life.
Until the late 90's, Guatemala was torn in a violent 36 year civil war between the conservative, wealthy upper-class who controlled politics and the military and the overwhelmingly poor, liberal lower class that was seeking democratic reforms. Fortunately, to date the economic disparity has begun to decrease, albeit very slowly compared to other regions of the world. Like many cities torn by this type of disparity, drugs, crime and violence do exist but are primarily "underground", confined to the city limits and surrounding suburbs of Guatemala City ("La Ciudad" as the locals call it). There is hope and freedom from these such underground activities and it exists in the hands of organizations like Manos Amigas and people like Rodrigo Pascual. With lacrosse as the vehicle, Rodrigo has helped children all over Guatelmala unite together for change.
After a very early morning wake up call before sunrise we headed to Guatemala City's bus station to catch our ride to Livingston where we were to spend the next couple days working in the community and learning about their needs. Five hours later by bus and an hour boat ride to the village we arrived exhausted yet ready to embrace the kids of Manas Amigas, Livingston. We quickly regained strength, however, fueled by the kids' enthusiasm and excitement for the sport that brought us there. The mission of Manas Amigas is to build confidence, leadership and communication skills through lacrosse in order to keep the children that are a part of it, living positively and away from the negativity many face daily. One such example is Marvin, a 17-year old Manas Amigas leader who organizes activities and helps Rodrigo sustain lacrosse in Livingston. He and a few other kids are responsible for encouraging others to come to practice and attend events as well as invite new players to join the project. Marvin's dream is to be a coach despite being torn daily between working to help his family or continue leading his community through Manas Amigas efforts. His father is in jail for drugs and his mom is an alcoholic. That is a lot of pressure for one young dreamer to be under. But yet, for the moment, lacrosse prevails and so does his dream. Marvin is definitely a special kid and a great example of how lacrosse can provide hope.
After practice on Sunday we arrived back at our hotel or Hacienda for a night's rest before another long day with the Livingston children. The next day we would hand over the coaching responsibilities to the youth leaders of Manas Amigas like our friend Marvin. Never before has Livingston seen such an event for the children and certainly not for a new sport like lacrosse. Tomorrow these kids would make history.