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Favela Street Football Project Aims To Help Girls At Risk
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Story By: Larry Stine

 

 

 
 
 
   
   
  Originally Published on: 6/29/2014

Brazil may be hosting the 2014 World Cup, but the love of the game extends beyond its glamorous new stadiums. Here's how football is helping women escape Brazil's poorest neighborhoods. In the Penha favela on the outskirts of Rio, a unique soccer project is making a difference for girls from this neighborhood. Jessica Maria is one of the top players. "Football is my life, she says, without football I am nothing." The mere fact these girls can play at all is remarkable. Girls soccer is frowned upon by many Brazilians. And until recently, drug gangs ruled this place, recruiting youngsters as narcotics runners. Jessica was one of them. "For a while I was a part of that life," she says. "I was involved in drug trafficking. But thankfully I am not in that life anymore." The project is called Favela Street. Philip Veldhuis is the man behind it. THE PROJECT IS CALLED FAVELA STREET. Before games, he holds talks with the girls, to speak about football, but also personal issues and overcoming problems in the community. "If they stick together, if they work hard for it, they can achieve it," he says. "That is the message we try to give them and that hopefully is the message they give themselves for their lives." Favela Street is as much about building self-esteem as it is about soccer. "This project is not only about teaching the girls to become better footballers," says CNN's Fred Pleitgen. "It also tries to build their confidence, so they can get by in a tough place like this. And thrive in the future." One major confidence boost came when the Favela Street girls won the Street Child World Cup, earlier this year. Drica Santos is one of the team's captains. She leads the warm-ups and serves as a role model to the other players. "I always try to do the right thing both on and off the pitch," she says. "I always try to talk to them about the things they shouldn't be doing in their lives and sometimes we have disagreements. But we always talk things through." About 80 girls and young women are currently part of Favela Street. A small project that is making a big difference, empowering females in one of Brazil's toughest places.

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