By Olga Trujillo
In difficult times, a person is saved by hope. Philosopher Menander the Greek said that. And Eliane Nascimento, a former football player in Brazil thought the same, when she created Estrela Sports, an NGO that reaches the narrow streets of Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America, where she uses football as a weapon to social change among children and adolescents who grow up among violence, disorganization, illiteracy and poverty.
Eliane describes her projects: “We have two: one is called “Estrelas do Futuro” (Stars of the Future) boys and girls and “Boas de Bola” (Good with the ball) just girls.” The training and workshops meetings take place in a pitch at the Rocinha favela, where she already involved around 200 participants, all of them from 5 to 17 years. The idea, according to the history of the association, is to provide personal growth, professional and a better perspectives with no barriers, limits or gender differences; for that purpose she does social work –which is done in a double shift-, but which also comes from the desire to close the gap between the continuous tragedies and inequalities that women face in Brazil.
“We also have the mindset that women are very strong. I think that when we want something, we give everything to achieve it. When I went to Bolivia with the Brazilian embassy (in September 2011 where she spoke with girls soccer players) I saw there was hope in girls’ eyes with my presence so I told them ‘you can do more, you are not here just to clean the house, you can do sports as well’. I also spoke with their families to raise awareness between the difference in saying: ‘my daughter can do a sport’ and ‘my daughter can clean the pots and the house’. The project relies on family, if they don’t support the girls, it is difficult to get your goal”.
The Football World Cup that took place in her country cost 15 billion, almost three times more than South Africa’s 2010. But money and football, does not flow equitably to support men who play soccer and women on this Latin-American country. In fact, Eliane’s organization works regardless of the lack of financial resources. Among the few donations she has received, is the NIKE sports gear. Economic obstacles are also a limitation to get volunteers: They tarted with 15, today there are only five left. Besides, as well as other associations of its kind in the country, Estrela Sports is faced with the suspicion that this is money laundering.
That is why Eliane used to work in Barcelona where she lived five years and where she started the organization in 2009; her salary feeds her ‘idealism’ –says when referring to Estrela Sports in an interview with Diosas Olímpicas during its staying in Brazil–, “this is not only about helping” she adds. Sometimes she takes hand of her brother’s pocket, Guillermo, who works 70 hours a week in a construction factory.
Eliane: “My brother is my best volunteer” That is why Guillermo is important to Estrela Sports. “She doesn’t speak English, then she called me from Barcelona to travel together to Germany (June 2011) where Discover Football chose seven teams among forty, including the Estrela Sports Association, they took us to participate in an international tournament called Social World Cup, since that moment I got involved” says Gueillermo.
Participation in Germany, where the Brazilian team won- gave Eliane lot of momentum: “When I took the girls to Berlin via Discover Football, people who did not believe in women’s soccer began to do it, and they started to spread the word about us, because as a former player (Várzea FC, Regatas Botafogo, CR Flamengo and Santos) I know what women have gone through, it means I can help to achieve dreams,” she says.
For now Eliane is promoting Estrela Sports by this ‘Diga Sem au Futebol Femenino’ campaign, captured in t-shirts that cost 20 reais (10 dls.) She calls on the attention of journalists, artists, prominent players in order to create more visibility in the media, such as participating in many tournaments because “with this mentality we have to work from grassroots, I think we are starting to move women’s soccer in my country”.
DO: “You don’t earn money with Estrela Sports, what motivates you?”
Eliane: “To believe that life is much more than just money, we know when we die we don’t take anything with us and just to see the joy of children in my project and knowing that I’m giving them a chance to life it makes feel I can die happy. ”
DO: “How many ‘no’ have you received?”
Eliane: (Laughs) … “I have received many ‘no’ in my life and precisely with Estrela Sports, but also ‘yes’ which are very rewarding because there are people who do not help me financially like my volunteers, or people who I meet in events; I always tell them ‘we plant seeds to pick up in the future’.
It’s one o’clock in the morning and Eliane –who gave Diosas Olímpicas the interview outside a restaurant where after ten years she met Caitlin Fisher and Bia Vaz, former player of Santos- still has that fresh scent that spreads energy. Caitlin, another tough social activist of women’s soccer co-founder of Guerreiras Project, says:
“We were team mates but I had no idea what she was working on. We both are doing social projects and we would like to work together, but we know how hard is it. “
DO: “What’s next for Estrela Sports?”
Eliane: “Going to Barcelona to study leadership and management in the best universities, so I would be able to support Estrela Sports to connect it with other companies that are very strong, we need partnerships.
Discover Football for me is doing something very important to bring people togehter and organize conferences, people who work towards the same goal. We already participated twice in Brazil, one in Nike Hims and other in Nike Street Football, but what happened to those meetings is that people end up getting out of touch, because not too many people think that it is better to work together, we need to be more confident and collaborate more.
DO: “Have you ever felt tired?”
Eliane: “I think there are high and low moments, but the ‘high’ are much better. I have traveled a lot and need the smiles of children, and the conquest we earn each year. Today is a lot of work for me because I am hundred percent working on the NGO and four volunteers helping me, but they have other jobs on the side. There was a plunge because suddenly we had no more time and I felt alone, but now I see that it changed.”