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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How soon is Neverland?

How soon is Neverland?

by rick olivares

In the movie Hook (starring Robin Williams and directed by Steven Spielberg), a sequel of sorts on the fairy tale of Peter Pan, the eternal kid is all grown up. Suddenly confronted with age and the problems that come along with it, he is advised to retreat back to his “happy thought” (being a father) in order to relearn magic and to fly.

A rejuvenated Peter Pan goes on to vanquish the returning Captain Hook, save his family, and finally bring back peace to Neverland. And as fairy tales oft end, they all live happily ever after.

Neverland for Jeffrey Solis is the memory of Melbourne, Australia in December of 2008 and the memory burns fiercely in his mind.

For seven days in December, Solis was shown a vision of hope. During that time, he was a part of the first Philippine Homeless World Cup Team that competed and finished 44th in a 48-country field. The competition features a four-a-side mixed lineup of players at least 16 years of age. In the tourney, teams compete in two 14-minute halves in a small-sized court with a dimension of 22x16 meters. It’s like futsal only in a faster and more exciting setting.

Team Philippines didn’t win much, taking only 4 of their 13 matches but at the end of the competition, but in the end, they came away like cup winners.

In the five editions of the Homeless World Cup, the organization has reported a 73% success rate of its participants bettering their positions in life after this unique experience.

Bill Shaw is from East Jordan, Michigan, but he found his calling in the Philippines as the Executive Director for Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation Inc. and the organizer for the local Homeless World Cup team. Said Shaw, “What we’re trying to do is get kids off the streets. Help them get an education, and look for opportunities for them after the competition. One of our efforts is selling a street magazine called “The Jeepney” which is all about issues of poverty. For their efforts, the kids get a percentage of the sales. Our mission is not just for the homeless but also those recovering from substance and alcohol abuse and the poor. The HWC is a home for the homeless and the disenfranchised.”

Talk about opportunity. For the entire Team Philippines, the Homeless World Cup was an eye opener.

Solis was surprised by how different, how clean Melbourne was. He never dreamed about going to another country because such a thought wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. The only time he began to earnestly dream about it when the team began its earnest preparations for the tournament. He rode on an airplane, made new friends, ate different food, and for the first time in his life, felt like a different person. The things the fortunate take for granted were a wholly new and intoxicating experience for Solis and his teammates. But more than the experience and the medals that were proof of their participation in Melbourne, they were shown a glimpse of hope.

He hated to come home. It was an uncertain future after all. But the team organizers did their best to help them by giving them work, shelter, clothing, and allowances.

Jeff Solis knows the streets of Manila so well. Abandoned by his mother years ago, he had to fend for himself by begging, working as a jeepney barker, and sniffing rugby when he wanted all his problems to go away. Picked up in the stratosphere half naked by the Manila Police, he was brought to the Tuloy sa Don Bosco Street Children Village in Muntinlupa where half the HWC team comes from (the other half hails from the Nayon ng Kabataan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Mandaluyong City). There he found a home, religion, an education, and football.

Excited about the prospect of going to Australia and representing the country, he was informed that he needed his parents’ signature for him to get his passport to Australia. After much looking, his mother surfaced one day. She merely said “hi” to her long-lost son, signed the papers, and disappeared again. Just when Jeff is on the rebound, his old life sneaks in a sucker punch to the gut that leaves him in tears.

After Melbourne, coming home was a jarring reality check.

Along with his Homeless World Cup teammates Jay-R de Jesus and Kevin Prix Logioy, the three finished a vocational course at Tuloy sa Don Bosco before they moved out to find their place in the world.

Jay-R helps teach football at Sisters of Mary Boystown in Silang, Cavite, while Kevin works in a restaurant. Jeffrey is now with former national player Rudy del Rosario at the Art of Playing Football School in Sun Valley, ParaƱaque. The money the three youngsters collectively make isn’t much but they get by. They rent a small room in United ParaƱaque where they each have a mattress and a pillow to lie down on and a couple of electric fans to beat the heat in this sizzling summer.

Education and sports. They are considered as the great equalizers in life. To be so near yet so far.

Jeffrey was offered a football scholarship at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines but it was held back because he had only finished a vocational course and did not complete his high school education. The setback upset Solis who admits that it contributes to his unhappiness. He has no idea on what to do although del Rosario is trying to find a way to help him finish his education and get a diploma. Solis knows his knowledge about football is only so much and it will only give him so much work.

Everyday he wages a battle in his mind to revert back to the street life that he once lived or to continue with only a sliver of hope to light his way. That is why he constantly retreats to those seven days in Melbourne. When he does, he feels the tears streak down his cheek.

“Ayoko na ng buhay na ganito.” he said meekly as he turned away apparently ashamed that he has let someone glimpse him in all his vulnerability.

“Sabi nila sa football dapat hindi mag-give up dahil lagging mayroon bukas at isa pang laro,” he suddenly chimed wanting to explain himself. “Kailangan lang kumapit sa paniniwala na ‘yon.”

Jeffrey Solis is hoping and working for a happy ending.

Post script: The other members of the first Philippine team to the Homeless World Cup include Kevin Prix Logioy who now works at Henlin, Ricky Elequio who works at Amici Restaurant, Nina Verzosa and Rondolf Longgakit still both live at Nayon ng Kabataan where they are finishing up their secondary education. Russel Jacinto worked in a Chinese restaurant before returning to her native Agusan del Sur.

Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation was founded by William and Deborah Shaw in November 2007 in order to call attention and find solutions to the issues of homelessness and poverty. Through participation in the Homeless World Cup, they hope to provide their players with a positive life changing experience that will help them continue their education and find steady employment through its corporate sponsors or through football. Even after their participation in the Homeless World Cup, the Shaws know their work is only beginning as they look for ways to help their wards. Obviously, it isn't easy. While all seven of the first team are employed or back in school, the Shaws constantly have to work and guide them.

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