Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #155 A Sort of Homecoming

This appears in my Monday column in the Monday April 27, 2009 edition of Business Mirror.
Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

A Sort of Homecoming
words & pictures by rick olivares

Home is not where you live but where they understand you.”
- Christian Morgenstern

The stall no bigger than four feet wide and atop it was a dispenser for a cold chocolate energy drink. The attendant brought a couple of thousand small cups and it looked that before noon, they’d be all out of it. After all, there were some 800 kids and about close to 60 adults on hand for the First Homeless Football Festival at La Salle Greenhills.

The line was at least 70 kids-long (while most everyone lined up for the packed meals being distributed by volunteers) and one boy of 14 summers when he got to the front of the queue asked if he could have two cups of the drink.

Dalawa?” asked the attendant who was on automatic mode handing over one cup for each child but momentarily stopped as if the request did not compute inside her head right away.

Masarap,” explained the boy who was already sipping and savoring the cool drink the way a wine connoisseur would to a chardonnay. “Minsan lang maka-inom ng ganito, eh.”

The attendant smiled broadly and handed over a second cup. Adjustment made as smiles were the order of the day.

Over by the main tent where the meals were being handed out, two men of obvious African heritage sat and observed the proceedings. A reporter from a television network asked them questions about their presence not just in the day’s event but also in the Philippines. It wasn’t exactly easy for Paul Kiyek to communicate because of his limited English-speaking skills and the same for his compatriot Alex Obiang; two Cameroonians marooned several continents away as they pursued a football dream. But try they did.

Kiyek and Obiang were duped by a sport agent who pilfered each man of $6,000 to play football in Uzbekistan. They were brought to Dubai and told to board a flight for Manila where another agent would meet them for the final transfer to Eastern Europe. Only no one ever came. The mobile phone number that once rang them incessantly was no longer in service and the email address the assured them safe passage and employment to play football in Europe was fictitious and no longer in use as well.

They can no longer go home as their families in Yaoumbe, Cameroon had to borrow money just to send them abroad. The creditors want their money back and failure to do so carries with it a penalty of the Tony Soprano kind.

There are times when they are depressed but they are grateful for the support and help given by Bill Shaw, the publisher of street magazine The Jeepney and a tireless social worker. Shaw is housing and feeding them in exchange for the Cameroonians’ service in their activities in Antipolo as well as teaching the homeless and street kids the game of football.

The rains were threatening to put a damper on the morning’s festivities and the Cameroonians stood up to check out their wards from the Kids International Ministries team that they help train.

We went out of our country to play football and now we are lost and far from home,” said Paul with imploring eyes. “Maybe God has a plan for us. I hope so.”

Fr. Antonio “Beng” Molavin, the Spiritual Director of Tuloy sa Don Bosco that helps street children reintegrate with society, sat in the rain. One of his boys teams had taken a beating in the first match. “You have to remember that these are kids who have been abandoned, lost, or abused. Hardship and loss is a concept they face at a very young age so it’s important that we be there to guide them. A setback like this doesn’t mean it’s the end and that it’s a challenge and opportunity to come back and build their confidence.

The First Homeless Football Festival was organized in part by former music impresario turned football advocate, Ed Formoso. Over the past several years, he has tirelessly campaigned for football-related events to heal fractured communities. In his days as a student, he embraced the music of the bands of his time like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin yet on a rainy Saturday morning, with a high school combo of La Salle Greenhills kids using improvised materials such as industrial-sized drum cans, bamboo, and other recycled materials to play tribal beats infused with hip hop sensibilities, it was music to his tired old ears. “Woodstock, baby. Woodstock. Except it is football,” beamed the proud papa as the football pitches of La Salle Greenhills were filled with children vying to represent the country in Milan, Italy later this year.

Eight participants will be chosen from the 800 to don the national colors. “It isn’t simply about representing the Philippines and playing football,” underscored Shaw. “It’s also creating awareness about the plight of the homeless of which there are about 200,000 in Metro Manila alone. It’s a very real concern with a lot of implications on society. And the Homeless World Cup, this festival, is all about hope.”

There were dozens of volunteers who were on hand to not only personally prepare home cooked food for the children but also hand them out. Some worked as match officials and some as secretariat. Those with football backgrounds helped some of the kids on the finer points of kicking penalties or even ball control.

Marlon Maro, former Head Coach of the National Women’s Football Team knows what it is like to not have enough and live in hardship. The sport was his ticket to school and later a livelihood. He has given much of his time not only to the national team but also the squads from Gawad Kalinga, Tuloy sa Don Bosco, and the Homeless World Cup Team.

It is far from the glamorous position of handling the men’s team of De La Salle but he confessed that it brings a different kind of fulfillment. He says it may sound cliché-ish but it’s all about trying to make the world a better place. This act of compassion might in turn beget more people being selfless and helping out.

Ria Tanjangco was the captain of the National Women’s Futsal Team that recently resigned after a row with Philippine Football Federation officials. Weary of the politics of it all, she has been searching for things like this to help out. “There are bigger concerns than quarreling over what one didn’t do and what one did in playing for a team. This is as real as it gets.” Just like that, she’s off to help assemble the packed meals for the participants with teammate Aimee Limketee.

As the rains began to fall, a few sought shelter in the organizer’s tents. One young boy found refuge in the area where Paul Kiyek sat. The boy who probably had never seen a large black man like the Cameroonian before looked at Kiyek with curious eyes.

Paul seemed to understand and stood up to offer his chair. “Yes, I am homeless too. But this is our home now.”

He then headed out to the rain-soaked pitch.

Author's Note: Thanks to Ed Formoso, Bill Shaw, and Jeff Long. Thanks for asking me to emcee the program at LSGH last Saturday, April 25. I look forward to the same program next month in Ateneo.

From left to right: Danny Moran, Bill and Debbie Shaw, Arch Peter Moran, me, and Bro. Felipe Belleza.

You can see the rain-soaked field here. No one left their assignments and the games went on.

No comments:

Post a Comment