We meet with David Osorio, Young leader from Tiempo de Juego, one among the millions of victims of forced displacement in Colombia, having moved from Sonson in Medellin to Altos de Cazucá, Bogota at the age of 12. But David’s story is not a sad one. It is one of perseverance, commitment and self-confidence. In his own worlds: “the most important and essential thing in life is to believe that you can achieve your dreams.”
Raised by his grandmother until the age of 12, David acknowledges the importance that Football played in his life since a very young age. His first football memory dates back to 2001. At the age of 7, he experienced the euphoria of his country when, for the first time in history, Colombia won the “Copa America”. At the time, he didn’t truly understand what Colombia had exactly won or the importance of such an event for a country sinking into violence and in the grip of drug cartels. But he certainly understood that football had a strong ability to unite people.
According to David, football has the power to spark strong emotions in people. It doesn’t matter whether you really understand the game or not. Football does not only bring people together, it also has the potential to bring joy to their lives.
In the first years of the new millennium, football became an important means of "escape" for David and many young people living in Colombia. While the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were recruiting young civilians, David found respite from the poisonous environment of conflict by playing for hours on end in the streets of Sonson.
In 2006, fearing that David could be recruited by FARC, his family decided that it was best for him to travel to Bogotá where he could live with an older brother. David, then only 12 years old, had to travel and find his way to the Colombian capital unaccompanied. This is one of the experiences that, he claims, made him mature at a very young age and experience adult life faster than other children his age. David says that he skipped many steps of his childhood, having to work to earn his keep since the young age of 10. Premature adult life also lead him to consume drugs in his early youth. Looking for a way to escape from a life that was not as easy as it would have been for other children and a social context where it was not difficult to procure and consume drugs. But his foray into substance abuse is a very short chapter in David’s life. There was a drug more addictive than narcotics: football. It was the sport that made him realise that he had to take action and account for his life and also enabled him to do so.
At the age of 13, only one year after moving to Bogotá, he joined Fundacion Tiempo de Juego. At this time, as he describes, Tiempo de Juego was still a project in the making. The organisation was established by Andres Wiesner to offer the forcibly displaced communities of Altos de Cazucá, one of the capital’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, a safe space to play in order to prevent drug consumption, early pregnancies and youth from joining the FARC. Today, Tiempo de Juego does much more than that and has aided thousands of participants over the past 11 years with a broad spectrum of programmes.
David Osorio grew up with Tiempo de Juego. And Tiempo de Juego grew up with him. In many ways, the personal development of David and that of the organisation are intertwined. He was part of the initial group of young people to attend the first sessions of Andres Wiesner with limited resources. As he says: “We only had 3 footballs and we were around 40 kids.” One year after participating in the sessions, he was a member of the first group of young leaders that began to support Tiempo de Juego’s programme and train other children of Altos de Cazucá. This is how Tiempo de Juego was born, as a community initiative that started engaging young people who became young leaders and role models for other children. David soon became a living example of Tiempo de Juego’s positive impact and supported their programmes from being a young leader to a football coordinator and a community operator. He witnessed the growth of Tiempo de Juego and the organisation’s most important milestones:
“The programme was growing very fast and after four years, we inaugurated our headquarters. This was the first time I realised that small initiatives can make great changes and have a massive impact on people’s lives. I understood that the most important and essential thing in life is to believe that dreams are possible with hard work and perseverance.”
But David’s wish did not stop there. His dream had always been to go to university and, as he was always telling to his peers at Tiempo de Juego, he always believed he would one day make it come true. At the time, he was studying for his high school qualification in the evenings while working during the days and supporting Tiempo de Juego on the weekends. This was David’s life until December of 2013. One day, shortly after he graduated from high school, a great surprise awaited him. He describes this day as one of the happiest of his life:
“It was a Saturday in December 2013. I was running a football training session with a group of young people when I saw a car coming to the training centre. Suddenly, a group of people start building a big tent and preparing what looked like an event. I asked the people around, as I had no idea of what was happening. To my surprise, an event then took place and the director of adidas in Colombia called me on stage to offer me a grant to study for a professional career at a university of my choice in Colombia.“
This happened only ten days after David graduated from high school. Years later, David learned that adidas had asked Tiempo de Juego to recommend one young leader to whom to grant the payment of a university education. Tiempo de Juego chose David to acknowledge his support and personal development and realise his most important dream: studying at university. David was supported during the next year by adidas to finance the beginning of his university studies, but the grant also opened the doors to a number of opportunities to go to seminars, meet new people and travel.
He decided to study at Santo Tomas University in Bogotá. The life experience he had already gained enabled him to look at things from a very different perspective than his university peers, who came from a very different background. He soon understood that he had been very privileged to receive the grant and was keen to pass this opportunity on to other young leaders from Altos de Cazucá. Only two weeks after starting his bachelor degree course, he sat down with the Director of Bachelor Studies to propose and design a seminar that would enable other youth to experience university life, at least for a short period.
After months of hard work and discussions with the university, David presented a proposal to adidas. The university would let him use the campus for free but he needed funding support to bring the youth and pay the professors. This is how David, with the support of the university, Tiempo de Juego and adidas enabled 35 young leaders from Tiempo de Juego to attend a 15-day seminar at the university. The seminar was focused on sports management, well-being and sports training. This was a once-in-a-life-time experience for these young people who, at the age of 15, experienced university life first-hand. As David recalls, “I was very satisfied to have enabled young people who don’t have the chance to go to university to have this experience even for a short period of time.” After the success of the programme and given the great impact that the grant had on the life of David Osorio and other young people who benefit from his initiative, adidas decided to sponsor two more young leaders with a grant the following year.
In addition to his initiative at the University of Santo Tomas, in 2015 David lead the project “Dejando Rastro”, which was funded by Sony with the “Future Goals” grant with the main aim of promoting social cohesion and community participation through arts, music and football. The project engaged 50 young people, boys and girls, who took part in weekly classes of rap, break dance, graffiti and DJ-ing, as well as football3 training. The idea was to use additional tools that young people can understand, such as music, dance and visual arts, in order to promote similar values to those which Tiempo de Juego are trying to spread on the pitch.
If there is one thing David understood through his personal story, it is that dreams never end and that there is always a reward for hard work and commitment. One year before finishing his studies, the university offered him to apply to an exchange programme with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain. He was chosen among many students due to his commitment and study records. But he lacked the financial resources to do it, “the grant I had from adidas was only to study in Bogotá. I didn’t have funds to travel to Spain. So I asked adidas to advance the funds of the whole remaining year and I also started a campaign to raise the money for my trip with the support of Tiempo de Juego.”
This is how David managed to raise the sum needed to travel to Spain and gain a second degree at the university of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. He will finish his studies in Spain in June 2017. His dream is be the technical football director for a football club. He has realised how important the personal development of football players is and would, therefore, like to introduce further education on values to the professional football industry. He believes football3 can add value even to the professional players. He also believe that, with his support, many young people from disadvantaged communities can accomplish their dreams of becoming professional footballers. “If I manage to have a relevant position in a football club, I can go back to my community and support the youth with their nutrition, their training, their decisions, and give them opportunities, make a difference for them.”