INTERNATIONAL AID GROUP OFFERS SOCCER CLINIC TO HAITIAN YOUTH AS WAY TO COPE WITH DISASTER
(NJ.com) - By Bob Braun
CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, Haiti — The field is open and wide, with plenty of room for children like Sneider Joseph to run as hard and as fast as he can for as long as he can. If he keeps his eyes trained on the ball, the way his soccer coach says, he never has to see what he doesn’t want to see.
"When I am out there, I don’t see any of it,’’ says the 14-year-old.
He doesn’t see the shacks of tarpaulins and sheets and sticks. He doesn’t see his own 10x10 stifling space, its entrance draped with a torn and faded bedsheet depicting Charlie Brown and Lucy and other Peanuts characters. Where, when it rains, he sleeps on the same mattress with his aunt, uncle and two cousins. Otherwise he sleeps in the mud.
"My world is upside down since Jan. 12," he says.
So, on a rainy and windy day, a score of boys and girls ignored what was around them and ran and kicked and collided and laughed and called to each other and played until their shirts were soaked and their chests heaved and the mud stuck to their shins.
"I want him outside there," says his uncle, Jean Tolene, eyeing a puddle that will soon seep past Charlie Brown and into the shelter. "I want him out there as a much as he can be, especially in the rain. The rain makes this place smaller."
So, even after the game is over and even after the rain has turned the field to mud, Sneider is on the field with his friends, pretending they are in the World Cup, until it is too dark for Sneider to see both what he wants to see and what he doesn’t.
"All we could think of is how our homes had been destroyed and how we had nothing." Sneider gestures toward his teammates and the field stretching out behind him. "But now we have this."
When the residents of the neighborhood of this Port-au-Prince suburb lost their homes to the quake, many built shelters on a town park called Parc du Jour. They didn’t choose the place; it simply was the nearest piece of public land. Private landowners do not allow shanty towns on their property.
And it happened by chance that the Parc du Jour was home to a soccer field.
"I knew Sneider would want to be close to it, so we put our place right here," says Tolene, his uncle. About five feet away from the northeast corner of the pitch.
Then, one day, Aneau Lalane showed up with a group of people because they heard there was a soccer field with plenty of children who might want to play. Lalane is a major league soccer player with the Victoire team.
"This is a big deal, major league football guy," says Katie Dimmer, an official of an international aid group called Plan Haiti that brought soccer and Sneider Joseph and Lalane and hundreds of children together to play a sport in defiance of the nightmare of the earthquake.
Lalane, is a short, wiry forward who sucks on lollipops and stands with a slouch reminiscent of James Dean. The 21-year-old, who begins each practice with a prayer, is a prospect for the Haitian Olympic team, he says, and was contacted by the coaches of Real Madrid, one of the world’s premier soccer teams, to teach boys and girls how to play under a Plan Haiti initiative. It was Real Madrid’s way of helping.
"I love the sport, but I wasn’t very good," says Sneider. "Now I think I am getting very good because of my coach."
Lalane agrees. Sneider is one of the leading players of the Parc du Jour team. He and his friend and team-mate David Petit-Homme, an aggressive 15-year-old, dominated a scrimmage, a training session in preparation for an inter-camp tournament. Sneider often passed to the quick Petiti-Homme who scored three times in the first 10 minutes.
The two cheered and hugged and, for precious moments, there were no tents lining the field and there was no rubble within easy sight. There were no pigs leaving their droppings on the field and no goats scrambling between the children’s legs.
Instead of a few score camp residents who lined the field to watch the game, a giant stadium with endless rows of fans chanted their names. They were, they both said later, not two homeless boys who lost loved ones in an earthquake, but they were Lionel Messi, a common hero and a member of Real Madrid’s arch-rival, F.C. Barcelona.
No death, no misery, no earthquake, no Jan. 12. Only glory and only football.
"I didn’t have to think of anything else," says Petit-Homme.