SAN SALVADOR – Though the Portland Timbers have been busy here preparing for their key Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday night against C.D. Dragón (7pm PT, CONCACAF Facebook), they found time to help make an important difference for a group of local children.
Led by the club’s Stand Together community outreach platform, the team invited a group of over 30 kids from a soccer club in Soyapango to attend the team’s training session at the Estadio Cuscatlán. Following practice, the Timbers invited the kids on the field to meet the players and to donate several hundred Timbers shirts, 10 soccer balls from One World Futbol, over 115 books, and 70 tickets to Tuesday’s game.
The group of kids, ranging in age from four to 14, were organized as part of a special literacy program led by the Salvadoran organization Contextos. Over the past five years, Contextos has worked to broaden literacy programs among children across the country.
Says Gerardo Calderón, the organization’s Country Director, what they do goes beyond just teaching kids how to read and write.
“Really understanding what the words are saying and going farther than that—understanding the deeper meaning,” he said of the organization’s goals. “We do that in fostering reading first, and then encouraging that dialogue around the reading. Which sounds very basic but is very necessary.
“First, because our schools don’t have books. We don’t have much access to books, and second, because we have identified we have lost the capacity to dialogue peacefully one to another. So we use reading to encourage that.”
The donated books will go to a new library that Contextos is spearheading with the help of local sponsors and the Soyapango municipality. The area, one of the most violent in the country, will benefit due to the broadened reach of the books.
“Which is very cool because not a specific school are going to have access to these books but many schools,” said Calderón.
“We see a gap between what school is encouraging in teaching, and what is really needed in the community,” he added. “We’re trying to reduce that gap by using literacy and reading as a way to develop social and emotional skills in kids and lift the level of thinking and creativity in the students.”
For two of the kids who attended Monday’s training, the donation and opportunity to attend practice was a memorable one as it merged their love of soccer with their love of learning.
Michelle, 11, a Cristiano Ronaldo fan who plays soccer nearly every day, that part of the reason she loves the game is its ability to bring people together. “I like best getting along with everyone, hanging out,” she said. “I’m very happy that every day, I’m learning something new.”
Added Lionel Messi fan Edinielson, 14, the books will have an impact far beyond the day’s events.
“It’s very important to get books from the team because we’re going to be more exposed to books,” he said. “The books are going to facilitate the learning process.”
While a win Tuesday night is still the primary goal for the Timbers, the chance to give back in a new area of the world is not lost on head coach Caleb Porter.
“It’s a part of our club mission,” he said. “A little conversation, a book, it means a lot and it goes a long ways so we’re happy to do that even though we have a very important game tomorrow.”
Not to mention, Portland now has a new generation of new supporters in El Salvador.