Hey ya'll! So I wanted to share an incredible non profit with ya'll. They are AFJA Academia de Futbol Juvenil Amatense. They are an amazing program that is changing so many lives. Here is the interview I did with Steven, the creator of the program. 

Could you tell us a little bit about AFJA?

AFJA, stands for Academia de Futbol Juvenil Amatense. It is a non profit youth soccer academy located in Canton Los Amates in departamento La Libertad in El Salvador. The focus of this academy is to provide access  to a free and all inclusive academy for at risk girls and boys ages 5-19 in the community and surrounding areas. To understand the need for this work, one really has to see the environment and conditions that these children find themselves in. Our hope is that by providing these children with access to recreational soccer we keep them out of potential recruitment into gangs, drugs, and human trafficking that is so prevalent in the area. The program is 100% free, however there are strict requirements for eligibility (see below). We connect with youth soccer clubs to set up donation drives. We teach American youth soccer players the importance of sustainability and empower them to donate their gear to children in need. By recycling the gear we are reusing the gear that would otherwise end up in the trash. 

Eligibility requirements:
1) Academic: participants must provide monthly academic progress reports from teachers. We identify areas of need and pay for tutor sessions. 
2) Social project: Each month the students vote on a social project. We empower them to come up with their own ideas for community service projects each month and provide them resources and help to execute their idea. For example, we last month we had a clean up day and filled 10 large trash bags full of litter and disposed of it at a proper bin. The kids learn about the importance of maintaining their space clean. Traditionally, the trash is burned emitting toxic fumes into the air, so we also use this opportunity to teach. This is just one example of the many ideas that come from their own bright minds. 
3) Attendance: Their is a strict attendance policy to instill responsibility. 

What made you want to start this program?

This program was inspired by my personal experiences, my mother was born and raised in this community. Every summer, instead of summer camp, I was sent to Los Amates and grew up witnessing the vast disparities between life in LA (Los Angeles) and LA (Los Amates). When I graduated from the University of Southern California in 2015, I wanted to start a new venture. In the summer of 2017, through Crowd Funding, AFJA was born. 

What is it that you love most about creating this program?

What I love most about this project is the amount of support it has received. Personally, I feel that we are living a Central American Renaissance of sorts where we are reclaiming our identities. If you ask any non Salvadoran person what they know about El Salvador, they will more often than not mention two things....MS-13 and Pupusas. The rhetoric coming out from Trump has emboldened negative stereotypes of our people. This project is showing the world that on the other side of their fence are real children with real potential for good. I love sharing each child's story with the world. 

How do you think the children benefit from AFJA?

The Children benefit by not only receiving cleats, uniforms and other tangible goods, but also from the dedication from the adults in the community who volunteer as coaches. We are providing them the opportunity to laugh. We are not just providing them access to soccer equipment, we are helping them simply be kids and have access to joy. 

What are some plans for the future?

We return in July, in which we will have a world cup themed tournaments, an excursion, and watch parties for the soccer games. We also through cinema nights showing movies like CoCo on a big outdoor screen. A lot of our kids have never been to the movies, so we bring the cinema experience to them. 

Please show them some love and support by following their journey on Instagram @AFJA.ES