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The First High School Graduate

Javier does not stand out in a crowd. He is average height and average build. But when Javier plays soccer, he stands out. He plays with everything he has. He plays like his life depends on it. And in some ways, that might be true. Javier lives in a town deeply impacted by dangerous drug cartels. Violence touches every part of daily life, from his school to his family. 

Javier shared with us, “There was a time where no one was out during nighttime. There were a lot of shoot outs…I even remember my teacher telling us to lay on the floor, because the shootings would even happen during daytime…” Javier’s voice trailed off as he remembered the violence that had changed everything in his hometown…even claiming the lives of his family members. After a brief pause to compose himself, he continued, “we lost two of my cousins. They were kidnapped and we never heard from them again…” 

For a while it seemed no one was immune to violence: whether receiving or delivering it. People could be caught up in gunfire or hit by stray bullets. Or, people could be caught up in the violence, joining the cartels which were actively recruiting among the most vulnerable in their town, including children. Children were easy targets for violent cartels who offer money and power in a town with few job prospects and low education levels. There are many families like Javier’s who have yet to have a single family member graduate from high school. 

This was the environment Javier grew up in, and this is why we were so happy we could get him into our soccer program. This program is not only for soccer training, but it provides leadership training in an area where many men have been lost to violence, like Javier’s cousins. It provides mentorship for youth who are entering a crucial age where their decisions will impact the rest of their lives and the future of their towns. And it is helping youth accomplish their dreams.

Javier shared with us that his family has many problems in the home and many family members are in the cartels, but that “training every day and talking to my coaches helps me release all the tension from home.”

We asked Javier what his dream for the future was. He told us, “I would like to be the first one in my family to finish high school and go to university.”

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