Camino a la Copa: Breaking free
February 19, 2014
When we conceived of this idea of Camino a la Copa, we knew it was a big dream. The idea of organizing soccer clinics all the way from Steamboat to Brazil was borderline crazy. But we couldn't let our fear of the unknown hold us back. We turned off our cellphones, kissed our mothers goodbye and headed south.
In Sayulita, Nayarit, we gave two days of soccer training to the Costa Verde school. In Cherán, Michoacan, we put on a clinic for more than 120 kids. At Michoacan University San Nicolas de Hidalgo, we ran a training session for the women's fútbol rápido indoor team, and we also had the distinct pleasure of running a session for the Michoacan Association for the Deaf.
That last clinic was special. At the beginning of the session, we spoke through an interpreter, but once we started playing, we simply communicated through the language of fútbol with laughter, smiles, high-fives and shared joy. These remarkable young men and women have an extra challenge in their lives, but they show there are no barriers they cannot overcome.
High in the mountains of Michoacan, in the town of Cherán, we discovered another group of people breaking through the chains that bound them. We were there to put on soccer clinics, but what we discovered was a town fighting to break free of corruption and the oppression of drug cartels.
All of Mexico is plagued by these situations, but two years ago, the town of Cherán decided to forge a new path. They were tired of paying tithes to the mafia and watching the cartels clear-cut their forests for drug production. They had to do something unique because established politicians often are corrupt or disinterested.
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Their indigenous Purépecha heritage emboldened them to protect their forests, and because Purépecha society is matriarchal, the women were able to organize a secret revolution. They organized a local militia and lit bonfires in each of the intersections throughout the city, stopping traffic by setting the streets aflame. Then they pleaded their case in the capital, asking for political autonomy. The United Nations supported the town's efforts, but the Mexican government labeled them as criminals and encircled the city with soldiers.
"Once we lit the fires, we knew that we were stepping into the unknown," one of Cherán's city council members explained. "In some ways, we still don't know our path exactly. All we can do is stay true to our dreams and trust that the path will become clear."
After months of keeping the fires lit, they were granted autonomy, and they have demonstrated that local control can keep the cartels at bay, build a stronger community and restore their damage forests. "We want to be a model that all of Mexico can follow," we were told. "Now, we are teaching our children how to plant seedling trees."
Last month, the federal government finally sided with Cherán by recognizing their militia. Now, other communities are following Cherán's lead and organizing their own local efforts.
This past week of the Camino journey was filled with opportunities to witness the breaking of barriers. Having the opportunity to see the language of soccer unite deaf, Mexican men and women with English-speaking Camino members was incredible. Meanwhile, learning about the corruption and oppression that existed in Cherán and receiving a firsthand look into their current revolution was equally incredible and eye opening. We look forward to sharing more of these types of experiences with you.
Find more information about Camino a la Copa at http://www.caminoalacopa.com.