How Soccer (Futbol) Can Save the World

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While governments and corporations have sunk millions of dollars in educating the world about HIV/AIDS, one Pittsburgher, Justin Forzano, has led the Cameroon Football Development Program (CFDP) to apply a different kind of prevention: education through soccer clubs. 

We have all heard of the benefits of participating in team sports: teamwork, leadership skills, and self-confidence. Combine those benefits with group discussions and mentoring opportunities and you have a strong strategy to making an impact on a country that has been heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Cameroon Football Development Program was founded in Spring 2010 by Peter Ngwane and Justin Forzano. Although an uncommon approach, bringing something as natural as soccer together with something so practical, like disease prevention, has had a huge impact on the community of Kumba, Cameroon. Like many developing countries, Cameroon suffers from a variety of issues like corruption, poverty, the implications of its colonial history and a strong nationwide desire to “get out” and find better opportunities. This exodus of talent is known as “brain drain,” the flight of able, intelligent youth in search of better opportunities abroad. The communities left behind deal with skill gaps, fragmentation within their community, and create the right conditions for significant community decline. CFDP’s model is designed to change all of that.Image

Through partnering with local volunteers and identifying key community leaders, CFDP works with Kumba to provide a variety of programs: Leadership Training, After School Programs, a Youth League, and Girls Soccer Camps, in addition to a variety of special events. This year alone, they have involved over 500 youths in the area and engaged with regional organizations like United Action for Children, Play Soccer International, to expand their programs to other regions of the country.

But how does an engineering student from the University of Dayton get involved with helping the community of Kumba in distant Africa? It all started with a summer study abroad trip with his professor and a deep love for soccer. “From the first time I visited Kumba, I fell in love with Cameroon. The people, the culture, the food, the music and the importance of soccer.” Justin’s first visit to Cameroon demonstrated to him just how the United States has such excess, especially when it came to equipment for sports. “We were playing a game of football (soccer) on a dirt field and the locals were either sharing boots, playing with flip flops, or even without shoes. In the U.S. we just throw away these things even if they are in good shape.” Dealing with such an impression, Justin began asking how to connect those in Cameroon with those who have excess equipment in the United States. The following summer, Justin went back with a full set of jerseys and was met with wild enthusiasm in Kumba. Five years later, the set is still intact and is being passed around from club to club. 

What can be the most complicated obstacle for start-up nonprofits; can be making the link between the local community and the recipient community.  CFDP overcomes this obstacle by sticking to their mainstay: soccer. On the first weekend of August, they kicked off their fall season of Pittsburgh based fundraising events with a soccer tournament at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of learning lawn. With 9 teams participating, CFDP not only organized a fun Sunday tournament, but involved the local Cameroonian-American and African-American communities with kicking off the event with a drumming performance and authentic Cameroonian food.

Even if you were not able to attend their soccer tournament, CFDP has a variety of ways in which you can get involved. Whether it is sponsoring a team or participating in the Play for a Purpose program, check out http://www.cameroonfdp.com/ or follow them @CameroonFDP. 

 

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The Wall Finally Broke: The Lessons I Learned From Failing

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Last week, I learned about the law of attraction and how if you put something out into the universe, the universe will respond. Now, I totally thought this was a load of bull because, let’s be real, we are the masters of our own destiny …. right? Well, a couple Tuesdays ago I was lamenting to a friend of mine about how depleted I felt because I was so miserable at my job. I equated it to banging my head against a wall and the wall was showing no sign of damage nor was it causing enough pain that it would force me to stop. It was only a matter of time until one of them did. The next day, my boss called me in for a heart to heart. By the end of the conversation and a parting of ways was settled upon. Day after that, I happened upon a free week long teleconference by Christine Hassler that brought together experts on how to “upgrade” the various aspects of your life.

Call it coincidence or call it the power of the law of attraction, either way I found myself recuperating from the all too common challenge that all people, especially 20-somethings face: failure. Learning how to overcome and build back better from failure is crucial to succeeding in life, especially for those of us who aspire to be influential in this world. It is not enough to have excellent ideas or develop a beautiful vision, but truly successful leaders know how to learn from failing. I have seen this advice given by several thought leaders, and often thought about how that could possibly relate to me.

Reflecting back on my professional experience, I realized that I struggled to bring the best version of myself to work and allowed myself to fall into a vortex of misery and whining. I avoided making new friends and focused solely on how I was stuck in this awful situation with no solution. As awful as it was, I can now say I learned so much about myself and what parameters I need to be successful.  Some of those parameters are: a supportive and positive work environment, the sun (I guess you really can’t take Florida out of the girl), and the ability to connect with diverse cultures.

What about you? How did you overcome a failure and what lessons did you learn from that experience? What are some parameters that you need to be successful?