With the solidarity support of Cubans, sports and recreation are continuing to transcend marginality and exclusion in Venezuela’s poor communities.
CARACAS (August 4) — Madelaine Acosta is in Venezuela again. “This is nothing like 2004. It’s something else, and it’s all about what we have achieved.”
She arrived here from Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas, as part of the first group of collaborators assigned to work in the country’s poorest areas, to improve the lives of inhabitants dominated by marginality and all its associated problems. Those were the first days of the social mission Barrio Adentro Deportivo, (Into the Neighbourhood with Sports) and she, like all the other original members, started from zero.
“It wasn’t easy, because we were not only facing a new social context, but also distrustful people misled by negative reports about Cubans; that we were coming to take their jobs, and exploit the people…
“With perseverance and the results of our efforts, we quickly convinced them, visiting door to door, inviting them to participate in our own activities, under no obligation and free of charge.
“If an elderly person would arrive one day, there would be five the next, and, just like that, people started to participate, because they saw that with us their lives were beginning to change.”
FROM THEN UNTIL NOW
“Today it’s a different story, because you arrive to a place where they’re expecting you,” explained Ariel Sánchez from Havana, seven months into his first mission.
“I encountered a country that filled me with joy, above all given the spirit of the elderly people of the area where I work. The additional tenderness that comes with old age definitely helped, but, all the same, I noticed an appreciation which came from before, the result of the efforts of a colleague who preceded me.”
“He had finished some time ago, and the elderly, somewhat out of shape, started to suffer from their old pains again. That’s why they were so happy when I arrived; many people participated. The first thing I do everyday is work with them, and of all the activities, it’s the one I enjoy the most.
“I met several individuals who used canes, or wheel chairs; but now many have gotten rid of their canes and arrive jokingly boasting that they no longer need them; meanwhile others got out of their chairs and with a little help, also enjoyed the positive affects of the activities. The truth is I enjoy working with them.
“I spend another part of my day in the elementary school, with the smallest children, up to third grade. I teach them physical education, we play a variety of recreational games and I instruct them in sports such as chess, salsa, football and kickball, which they really enjoy.”
“Children have an amazing ability to surprise you, and with their ingenuity, show how practical people can be.”
“I work in Catia, but I live in different neighbourhood, a middle-class area where the children don’t play with each other in the afternoons when they get home from school. I wanted to organize a recreational activity there for Children’s Day, so they wouldn’t miss out, and the result was fantastic. Of course, I paid for it, because now there isn’t an afternoon when I don’t arrive home and there isn’t a little group of kids waiting for me: Cuban, get a ball and let’s play here, or there!’ I went looking for it,” stated Ariel, laughing.
“However, the most inspiring part is the rehabilitation work I do. There’s currently a family that want see me everyday to work with a young man, 23 years old, suffering from hemiplegia.
“We do joint mobility exercises, work on his walking ability and he is making notable progress. He can now walk, although still with some difficulty, and his speech has improved, it’s a lot better. They want me to come more often, but I have various commitments, and they understand.
“Nonetheless, their desire confirms that our collaboration also represents hope…hope we have been sowing for 11 years now.”
Walking around the areas where these collaborators work, it is easy to come across grateful voices.
Miguelina Guzmán, 75, for example, “But I feel 30,” hurries along letting out a loud laugh.
”Since I joined the seniors club I’ve started to do things, and not half-way, I joined because my shyness used to hold me back. Do you think I used to talk like this? Not at all. But now I’ve let myself go thanks to the vitality I feel from doing the exercises and physical activities.”
“I haven’t been doing it a long time, but I feel great,” adds Amanda de Rodríguez, “I was stuck inside the house, always working, looking after my grandchildren. I told myself, no, I’m going out to join the Cubans, and since then I’ve become a different person, playing dominos, bowls, doing dance therapy. They tell us to go here, and we go there.
“As long as you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything, and these collaborators have come from so far away to bring us these opportunities,” she notes.
As coordinator of the program in the Caracas neighbourhood of Sucre Norte, Liusván Eduarte speaks with the authority of someone who has witnessed the impact of the mission in various areas.
“In 11 years of Barrio Adentro Deportivo – which supports and promotes improved physical fitness – popular physical education in Venezuelan society has made a transcendental leap,” he emphasizes.
The solidarity support of the Cubans and the social impact of one of the Bolivarian Revolution’s most successful programs can be seen in the widespread growth of sports, inclusion of seniors, disabled people, and the enjoyment of the children, all with a community outlook.
“Since the beginning we have increased the seniors classes, fitness tests in schools, work in areas of extreme poverty, in parks, squares, streets and recently, directly with our doctors and cultural promoters, so that the missions’ contribution to the community arrives as a finished product, more complete.
“Without a doubt, the people will always feel grateful, because everything we do comes from the heart, with love and is retuned with affection.”
If this were not the case, Madelaine, a founder of Barrio Adentro Deportivo, would not have returned. When she was invited to come, in 2004, the only thing she was sure of was her commitment to putting into practice what she had learned.
At the academy she might have been told about how great of an impact sport can have on someone’s spirit, their values, but it wasn’t until she experienced it for real, there in the municipality of Varela, in the state of Trujillo, that she realized to what extent.
“Once, during a recreational activity in a basketball court, a young boy came up to me and quietly asked me if he could join in. He had a gun in his belt, and although I was a little scared, I asked him to join in once he had put away the little toy. The next day José returned with the gun and before coming in, looked at me, smiled and put it away.
“Since then he hasn’t stopped coming and he no longer brings the gun. He told me that he had given up drugs, that he used to smoke a lot, but preferred to spend his time with us.
“At the end of the mission, José had become the community’s sports promoter. It was one of the incidents which gave me the greatest satisfaction, the clearest example of what sport can achieve when used effectively.
“I needed no other explanation of why I wanted to return to Venezuela, I had the story of José.”