Ellana Watson, Philadelphia YAP Graduate, represented YAP in Sao Paulo, Brazil at “Mundial Futebol de Rua/Street Soccer World Cup” this month. Young people from over 20 countries participated in workshops, activities and a Street Soccer Tournament devoted to social inclusion, human rights, leadership development, collaboration and peaceful resolution to conflict.
The delegates represented various non-profits from 5 continents doing work in their respective countries to address issues such as exclusion, discrimination and violence.
“When I was 16 years old, I got into something that I knew would change my life but I didn’t know in what way. It was my decision to make my negative fallout a positive uplift,” says Ellana regarding her referral to YAP following a fight at school that resulted in her expulsion and involvement with probation.
“I came in the program angry, misunderstood yet outgoing,” she says. “And with the help of my advocates and the PYAP staff, they helped me to turn my negative actions and attitude into positive outcomes.”
Ellana described her experience in Brazil as “life changing.”
“Ellana, like most delegates, was on an intense personal journey in Sao Paolo,” says Diana Matteson, YAP International Development Associate, who led the U.S. delegation in Brazil. “There was a moment when she almost didn’t go at all, but the support of the YAP team and the encouragement of her uncle, along with that special Ellana quality that makes her like no other, were the nudges she needed to get on the plane. I think I speak for all 300 people at the event when I say I’m so glad she did.”
Ellana shone in Brazil just like she has been known to shine in Philadelphia.
“People were naturally drawn to Ellana and how real she is. Ellana is who she is, regardless of whether it is Sao Paolo or Philly. People respect that and respond to it,” says Diana. ”There is something very wonderful and engaging about Ellana”.
This engagement crossed cultures. Diana described one of the first nights in Brazil where despite language barriers, Ellana joined a group of Paraguayan youth in an UNO game that went on for hours, playing by Paraguayan rules. A member of the German delegation told Ellana he would miss her singing.
Ellana introduced herself early on as a singer when a cultural night ended with an open mic and Ellana was first up on the stage to introduce delegates to gospel genre of American music. On another night, the American delegation was tasked with presenting something about American culture to share. The group created “For Love of Country and Beyonce” which began with Ellana doing a solo of the US National Anthem followed by the group joining her to sing and dance to a string of Beyonce hits.
Of course they played soccer as well. Teams scored points based on the number of goals scored but also scored value points based on the values of respect, collaboration, and solidarity. The US team was one of a handful of teams that earned the maximum number of value points in every game played in the tournament. It was this same spirit of respect, solidarity and collaboration that made the US delegation so popular with event organizers, staff, volunteers and delegates alike. The US team put aside competition and played for the love of the game and to have fun.
“They were like family,” Ellana beamed about the other members of the U.S delegation who she plans on keeping in close contact with.
“We came together as a family for 2 weeks,” says Diana. “We had beautiful support from one another, and I’m proud of all of them.”
The US delegation was made up of young people from the International Youth Advocacy Federation (IYAF) member organizations Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. and Humanity Helping Sudan Project. IYAF members Youth Advocates Ghana and You-Net Ghana worked together as a Ghanaian delegation. Sierra Leone YAP was the third IYAF delegation.
“It was wonderful having delegations from Ghana and Sierra Leone,” says Diana, who also serves as the IYAF Director. “Particularly, for all the YAP employees who ‘go the Extra Mile’ each week by donating to SLYAP, how fantastic to have an actual face-to-face exchange with SLYAP youth and to meet with the new SLYAP Coordinator to talk about our work and potential collaborative projects to share with the YAP community.”
Both delegations overcame significant challenges in making the trip to Brazil. The Ghana delegation’s visas would not be released until the day of the flight, causing a wealth of uncertainty. Sierra Leone was delayed 2 days in getting to Brazil as the delegation waited for their visas to be delivered by motorbike from neighboring Guinea.
“It was special to work with these organizations in Brazil for two weeks as we rely on virtual collaboration,” says Diana. “This is the first time we have met and worked face-to-face.”
Columbia won the tournament, demonstrating both soccer prowess and values. The Columbian team came from Fundacion Proceder Siglo XXI which works with gang-affiliated youth in Barranquilla using the street soccer methodology.