Soccer vs Poverty

Garuda Muda — Jakarta, Indonesia

Garuda Muda in full kit! (2014–15 season)

What is our project & What issues are we addressing?

A local initiative part of the British School Jakarta’s IB CAS program which aims to provide sporting relief to underprivileged children within the schools local community.

The project involves a group of students from the British Schools Jakarta (BSJ) coaching a youth — U12 — soccer team entered in the JSFL, the largest inter schools soccer competition run in Jakarta. The first incarnation of the team in the early 2010’s went onto become Sekolah Bisa or ‘SB!’, a free school for local Indonesian children who are not able to access or afford education. The team’s current batch vetoed their old name Bintang Bisa — ‘Stars that Can’ — and now play under the name ‘Garuda Muda’ or ‘Young Garuda’s’. The mythic Indonesian bird itself adorning both the national team and Garuda Muda’s kit, symbolic I feel of the capacity of sport to unite from all walks of life. This is a recurring project handed down every two years to the new batch of coaches who will take the reigns after the current batch graduate from high school and oversee the team as they grow from little boys and girls into young adults.

CAS; creativity, action, service is a required part of the IB diploma that all IB students must undertake. This project has redefined what the word ‘service’ means to us. Charity is often superficial, giving or reading about a problem a million miles away and investing energy in something that might be worthwhile but ignoring suffering that you pass everyday but don’t comprehend or acknowledge. We felt that acting upon the issue of poverty so prevalent in our everyday lives in Jakarta was a truly fulfilling experience.

In short though my motivations for telling you the journey I went on with Garuda Muda is to highlight the fact that no action is too insignificant when it comes to helping others. I have seen and experienced most of my life from the privileged stand point of an expat living in Indonesia for the best part of a decade. And as a result I feel and will continue to feel for the rest of my life an obligation to help those not afford the same level of opportunity in life as me. Being bestowed with the capacity to help others is a privilege I feel many of us don’t take enough advantage of. So I challenge you to ask yourself — why shouldn’t I?

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again…” Stephen Grellet

While this pieces address the the work done on this project specifically there is a wider context that I cannot fully address in just wiring this piece regarding Sekolah Bisa, BSJ as well as the kids lives, homes, families and the nature of the poverty most of them live in. So if you feel inclined to know more please don’t hesitate to to ask : Aaron Thirkell (Group leader) — aaronthirkell@gmail.com

Madun ghosts pasts an opponent in a 3–1 win.

One of the main aims of the project as I have alluded to before is to provide an outlet of joy for children who may not have been afforded the same level of opportunity to succeed in education and sport as myself and fellow students at BSJ have been. The children that we coach are all from Sekolah Bisa a free school for disadvantaged children set up by students also involved in the BSJ CAS program. As well as a few from the local kampung just behind our school.

Before meeting the team for the first time we severely underestimated the ease at which this project would run, for we thought it would run itself. After all how hard can it be to get children who already love football to play football? But it is so much more involved than that. To do this project ‘badly’ would be simple and we would just watch the team come and play while we provide encouragement. However, when you endeavour to provide a fulfilling and meaningful experience for the kids it breeds a certain sense of responsibility for both their well-being and their happiness. As you begin to realize that simply being emphatic isn’t productive or responsible given our position not only as coaches but also as mentors.

Moreover we had to provide transport, healthcare, breakfast, water, half time pick me ups, post game meals, shower facilities, full kit from boots to headbands and everything in between though thankfully we very rarely had to act as enforcers of discipline. As well as forming a link with the CAS health group to provide fresh fruits, milk and dental checkups for our entire team. Giving purpose to the project provides it with meaning; not only for the kids for us as a group of coaches too. Soccer being one of Indonesia’s most popular pastimes we hoped to impart meaning through the positive lessons that the game has the capacity to teach. In particular the importance of discipline, respect, teamwork and the fact that they should never give up, why this particular value you might ask?

At the World Cup Trophy tour in Jakarta in 2014.

Our team though not totally defined by their socio-economic disadvantage, the gulf between the lives of the kids in Garuda Muda and their opponents was often very apparent with some opponents being physically much bigger than us, well fed and decked out in brand new kit and boots with their parents cheering them on the sidelines. We feel it is imperative to make sure that these kids make themselves known when they exist on the margins of society, hindered by the situation of the families they were born into and not yield to those who have been afforded a ‘head-start’. This piece and project are by no means a Marxist like attack against the bourgeois but rather an attempt to teach these kids the remarkable things they can achieve in spite of what they perceive even at the tender ages of 10 — an unfair advantage economically and socially. So even though success in football might seem trivial the positive lessons taken from every game whether it be a win, loss or draw are important because they can applied off the field too.

To change the perception of those who play against the kids and the attitudes of the kids themselves was also one of our primary objectives. Instead of being defined by their socio-economic status they rose above and challenged their place on the near bottom rung of Indonesian society. I do not feel this statement to be hyperbolic either as most of the kids did not even posses birth certificates before the intervention of another CAS group from BSJ. Some were out in the streets in begging, picking up rubbish as pemulongs but through the efforts of SB! and the fact they that can look forward to the positive experience of playing football with their friends, as well as a hot meal and shower, rather than being placed in a more vulnerable position begging or collecting rubbish is one of the inherently good things about this project in particular.

So despite the fact that myself and many of my peers pass kids like the ones in Garuda Muda everyday on our way to school. The expansive nature of poverty in Jakarta makes the task of alleviating it seem daunting. But Garuda Muda being on the soccer pitch means they confront head on those who pass them by everyday. And so through the game ourselves as coaches and our opponents are forced to evaluate the possibilities of what can be derived from a simple of soccer: Is it all about winning or is there more to it than that? Can sport be the medium through which society is forced to confront poverty? Quite possibly. Alone no one can tackle the issues of Indonesian poverty, lack of official documentation, a flawed and corrupt education system etc. But we try and do our bit to the best of our ability, hoping to inspire others to act in a similar manner and in this way we hope that the privilege bestowed to us to help other does not go to waste.

How does the project run and what does it entail?

We conduct bi-weekly training sessions on Thursday and Tuesday afternoons on the pitches at BSJ that in total last about 2 hours. Including the kids shower, warm up and lunch before hand. We have a few simple drills that cover the essentials of passing, shooting, positioning and defending. Always finishing each session of with a fun small sided game where everyone joins in. Sometimes using a local futsal pitch for some variation in training. Before each session the BSJ cafeteria provides all the kids with a substantial lunch and then the kids make their way to to the fields to put their socks and boots on. Their training and match kits designed us the coaches, is a blend of patriotic red, white and green the same colours that adorn the Indonesian national team strip. After running around for a couple hours the kids then gleefully pile into the showers to scrub clean and it is off to educational enrichment with volunteers at BSJ.

Ari strikes a pose during training at BSJ.

This 2014–15 JSFL season from January to March, Garuda Muda played in a competitive U12 C division. They topped the table for some weeks before falling to an admirable mid-table finish after some close games. Before each game we provide a little pregame snack consisting of a piece of fruit, milk and a cereal bar that the coaches get before hand during the week. After the game Ibu Sumati who works at SB! cooks a nutritious Indonesian meal for them and we all wash up together in preparation for next week’s meal.

These acts are the kind of positive action we try encourage the kids to participate in not only for educational hygiene purposes but because for most of them the bi-weekly shower at BSJ is the only time they get to wash thoroughly. These actions promote good habits that the kids can then teach their parents, friends and hopefully live as example citizens; going to school at SB!, living and eating well when they can while being graceful and thankful about the opportunity they have been given just as we appreciate that it is a lot of effort for the kids to come to train, play and organise themselves. We never directly tell them the moral lessons we aim to instil because we feel if football is played ‘the right way’ with respect between both teams, maximum effort and a positive attitude on the field. Then the game itself will teach the kids that the values aforementioned can be applied both on and off the field.

What is the projects wider significance & What have we learned from it?

The relationship we have is not merely emphatic, its symbiotic. As we reflect on everything we do as coaches while listening to what the kids want to do/train/eat in their next session. Our goals were not always something that could be measured quantitatively but could be gauged by the state of the relationship between us (the coaches) and the team. Deducing whether they are happy, if they are listening to us, their body language and how they act around us on game day and during our training sessions. From these indicators we could tell whether the kids realize what we are trying to teach them during the time we were with them.

Through sport is the medium through which we interact and support the kids, we wish we could have been more actively involved in their lives. Trying to reiterate what we say on the field, but it is not always possible because of vast nature of Jakarta, the pressures of our schooling and outside commitments. But this is indeed the most challenging aspect of our project, trying to affect meaningful change in only a couple hours a week. We tried our best to form a relationship with other CAS groups at our school like the ‘Bernang Bisa’ group and Health group. The former takes the kids for health and dental checkups while when the Jakarta sun is really beating down the kids go to cool off in a pool by a local housing complex where ‘Bernang Bisa’ engage them by teaching them how to swim.

Madun and Indra off to their first day of middle school (SMP) after passing their exams!

As coaches what we have learned from our experience is something cliche but profound in nature. You only get out what you put in. Madun, Indra and Asep the three oldest members of the team took their national exams on the eve of the end of the season. They all passed comfortably with Madun scoring in the highest bracket in the region, a reflection not only of his aptitude academically but his attitude on the pitch and the elegant way in which he handled the captaincy of the team. They are all now settling into their new middle schools (SMP) with hopefully more successes to come in the future. Every game day friends of the kids, past teammates and SB! graduates members come to cheer them on. This is representative of the bond formed within the team and the long lasting, meaningful relationships fostered both on and off the pitch.

The Final Word

I’d like to leave you with an example of the superficiality that beleaguer some charitable causes and the attitude we aimed to avoid when conducting this CAS project. A teacher at my school was giving an assembly about CAS and his relationship with his wider local community. He talked in endless hyperbolic metaphors and never concrete realities. He gave an example of his interaction with his wider local community. He said everyday in his car on the way to work he passed a women in the kampung and they would wave at each other. The women had a baby one day and when he passed by she held up the baby acknowledging its existence in an affectionate way as if to say “Look mister, my child!”.

But that was it. The sole example he choose to exemplify the depth of his relationship with the country he had called home for more than a decade. A passing greeting for years, not even knowing her name. Yet the fervent way in which he delivered this message made it seem as through the relationship was profound and meaningful, when in reality it seemed nothing more than naively fulfilling for him.

Truly interacting with the world around you is difficult but one of the most rewarding experiences. Do not be pessimistic about the fate of others rather seek out and challenge yourself to have a worthwhile, positive impact on the society you are a part of.

Pool day!

Written by: Aaron Thirkell (2014)