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Solidarity through soccer

Solidarity through soccer

Members of the Loyola men's soccer team visited Peru this spring as part of their international service-learning class. (Photo: Loyola Athletics)

Center for Experiential Learning

With the universal language of sports, Loyola students help build community in Peru

By Scott Alessi

On a rainy March afternoon, Loyola sophomore Elliot Collier stood in the center of an outdoor concrete court in the mountain town of Andahuaylillas, Peru, kicking around a ball with fellow members of the Loyola men’s soccer team. Slowly, children from the surrounding area heard the familiar sounds and started to join in. As the day went on more children arrived, and eventually some adults from the community gathered to watch—or even join the game.

Despite the language barrier, Collier says the Ramblers quickly bonded with their new Peruvian friends. “The language of soccer speaks louder than any other language in the world,” he says.

The experience was just one of the highlights of this year’s spring break experience for players on the men’s soccer team. Through a collaboration between athletics, the Center for Experiential Learning, and campus ministry, the team participated in a 10-day immersion trip to Peru. The trip was part of the international service-learning course, a class offered through the Center for Experiential Learning that focuses on service and community development.

While traveling through Peru, the students were immersed in a developing country where they were able to explore the use of sports—particularly soccer, or fútbol, as the Peruvians call it—as a means of youth and community development.

The Loyola students worked with a local nongovernmental organization in Lima, the Martin Luther King Association at El Agustino, where former gang members are working to rejoin their communities and workforce thanks in large part to rehabilitation efforts through soccer. Upon returning to Chicago the students continued to explore similar issues with local nonprofit organizations.

Senior Ryan Howe was impressed with the MLK Association’s ability to mix the fun of soccer with educational outreach efforts to youth living in poverty. “No matter what games that they are playing, they are always looking to incorporate an educational lesson into it,” Howe says of the organization. “It was great to see the kids engaged and eager to play, and to listen to what the instructors had to offer.”

Another stop on the trip was the city of Cuzco, where the Ramblers visited a Fe y Alegría school. Founded by the Jesuits, the Fe y Alegría network of schools has a mission of creating educational opportunities for children living in impoverished rural areas and helping them prepare for successful careers. The school in Cuzco teaches more than 600 students, ranging from preschoolers to teenagers.

For students like Collier, the trip was an eye-opening experience that provided a different perspective on the daily struggles experienced by people in other parts of the world.

“Peru has shown me that I have a lot to be thankful for and take a lot of things for granted,” he says. “I can say that we have definitely been taken out of our comfort zone. We have been tested in ways we could never have been back in Chicago.”