Lima, Peru - October 3, 2012
Maria was nine when she first went out on the streets to make money.
Her mother was with her then, and together they would go out to make what they could selling any range of items they had at their disposal.
Sweets one day, random bric-a-brac the other, anything that helped bring some kind of income home to the family of 16 children.
Her mother was with her then.
But over time Maria began venturing out alone. Apart, that is, for her twin sister, who remained by her side on the streets of Lima, the capital of Peru.
Those Peruvian streets became a second home to the two young girls. Then it became their first home, sleeping out there after a busy day of work, returning to the family only occasionally. Eventually it would become their only home.
By the time the two sisters had turned 11 they were taking drugs. First it was inhaling glue fumes, then marijuana, cocaine followed. Selling a few sweets could no longer fund such a lifestyle and the two sisters, not yet in their teenage years, took to stealing to fund their addictions.
Talking to Laureus.com about such child homelessness in Lima, Dr David Moore, from the Laureus-supported football Project Liga LimaKids, says: “This is not an uncommon story. Children are left to fend for themselves, and once they are in that life, it’s difficult to come back.
The rate of child homelessness in Peru may not compare to that of its northern neighbour Mexico, but that is far from saying it is not a pressing concern for the nation.
Worryingly, it has also proved difficult to be certain exactly how many children are living on the streets of Lima.
“The problem is many move about from one house to another, then back to the street,” Moore says. “This casual street life can polarise people into gangs. There are groups of 13-14 year olds living this chaotic life, not necessarily on the street, but going from house to house, room to room. It’s these young people that often populate the orphanages with which we work trying to teach youngsters about healthy living through football.”
Maria was one such young person.
When she was 13, following years of uncertain street life and drug-taking, Maria and her sister entered an orphanage for the first time.
Children with backgrounds like Maria’s are often the very ones that orphanages in Lima reach out to, despite the fact that they may have a living parent. The focus being to help offer these troubled young people the promise of a more stable roof over their heads.
And though this is what Maria received at the orphanage, the end of her struggle with the temptations of the street was not yet over.
For several months after she arrived, Maria frequently escaped from her new home for a return to the life she previously lived. She would return, but this destructive cycle was proving far from encouraging for her long-term growth.
Then, two years ago now, Maria discovered that the Liga Limakids sports project was at work with her orphanage. And having a love of sport, particularly football, Maria was quick to get involved.
The effect Liga Limakids has had on young people in these orphanages has sometimes proved profound; Maria has not once run away from the orphanage since she first got involved with the project and her behaviour has changed drastically.
Maria’s success with Liga Limakids could not show the Laureus belief in sport’s ability to change lives for the better more clearly. In the past two years after turning her back to her former life, she has not only won prizes for her exceptional footballing talent but perhaps more importantly, won the Mejor Amiga prize, which translated means, the Best Friend prize.
To find the winner of this special award, all members of the project nominate the person they consider to be the most positive influence for the team both on and off the pitch. Showing how important she is considered by her teammates, Maria was named a recent recipient.
Thanks to Laureus support, Liga Limakids has been able to grow into the stable, life-changing organisation it is today.
“The first few years that we operated, it was really on a shoe string budget,” Moore explains. “And almost all the team were just volunteers.”
“Once Laureus became involved we were able to enjoy better access to coaches, who could become full-time staff, and we also became able to transport teams to and from games much better, which were all things that helped us expand the number of participants, too.”
Maria still has some time left with the orphanage whilst she completes her educational studies and has now been chosen as one of the project’s assistant coaches.
She will be helping teach other young orphans the Liga Limakids sporting philosophy of teamwork, respect for others and even environmental awareness. In doing this, she will be completing the circle and giving back to the programme that gave her back the opportunity to (in the words of another Limakids participant) “just do stuff normal kids can do”.