The World Cup—are you watching? I have to say the first couple weeks have been mildly intriguing for me. I grew up on a baseball field, a basketball court, and an American football field. We never played organized soccer, as it was mostly referred to in America. I know there are rules. I don’t really know the rules though. I know the US team is doing better than possibly expected this time around. I know it does not matter much to me. So, why I am writing about this?
Well, this morning, I happened to catch an article about a soccer ball, or futbol, that doesn’t deflate. Its inventors went on to talk about the value of play, as the only proven therapy for youth in war zones, refugee camps, and impoverished communities. This made me think about my recent visit in April to Indonesia, for an International Schools Theatre Festival, to which I had been invited to participate. One of the profound high points of the festival was a visit to an impoverished school in the heart of Jakarta. It was a first-time visit for almost all of us outside of this hidden world, the youth coming from the international schools, as well as the artists (like me) and the educators, who accompanied them. The Indonesian, Bahasa-speaking translator, who walked the school grounds with us, did his best to tell the story of these impoverished young people and their families. He also introduced us to the staff, who described the tremendous obstacles they faced in providing the necessary tools for educating their youth. As our group continued on the tour, we reached the upper grades, or what would essentially be middle school students in our system, approximately 12 to 14 years of age. While the middle school international students did their best to mingle with the seemingly shy Indonesian students, the language barrier was evident, and the chance at making a connection seemed tenuous at best. Then a soccer ball appeared.
“How about a game of futbol?” I suggested. Everyone said yes!
As we moved to the muggy field just outside of the classroom, you could feel the energy shift, especially for the Indonesian youth. As the appointed referee, I carried the ball onto the field. The first thing I saw was a squashed dead rat, and some refuse on this lumpy patch of dirt and grass. “Was this a good idea or even safe?” I thought. Too late. The ball was in play and the match was on. The international kids put up a good fight, but the Indonesian youth clearly enjoyed home field advantage. I overheard one girl from an international school say, “ All right, lets do our best! Even though we are a bunch of drama students!” It was all boys on the field for the Indonesian side, but it was fascinating to observe the Indonesian girls, dressed in headscarves, rooting cheerfully and vehemently from the sidelines. The bigger point was how engaged everyone was. The playing field had leveled us, if even for just those few moments. After the game, we joined in a circle, intermingling international students and Indonesian youth, to play theatre games. As we learned each other’s names, and improvised sounds and physical actions, the connection was electric and the joy was palpable.
And so, as the World Cup moves toward its glorious finish, young people around the world will gather in their communities, to play, and dream of a better future. I think I just became a huge fan.
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