As dozens of children kicked a ball around last Friday afternoon, a group of slightly older boys sat quietly inside, just within earshot. Lined up in rows on the white tile floor, they looked up at the instructors, who were waiting for answers.
“One more,” said Eko Darmawan, pointing to the bottom of the list on the dry eraser board.
The boys, donning neon shorts and knee-high socks, were ready to take to the football field, but they glanced at each other for a few seconds. Finally, one volunteered to fill in the blank.
Although school had been out for nearly an hour, the students weren’t stuck in the open-air classroom as punishment. They were there because they had earned it.
Every Friday and Saturday for 12 weeks, the boys have been participating in “Life Skills through Grass Roots Soccer Development,” a program that aims to educate kids through sport. The underprivileged 12-year-olds come from kampungs in Tangerang and had to secure their spots with good grades and red stamps — proving that they visit the library at least three times a week.
“We use sports as the carrot,” explained Lee Hawkins, who is the technical manager at the Asian Soccer Association (ASA) Foundation, the group behind the workshop.
The program is one of dozens that the ASA Foundation coordinates each year. Together with other partners, which range from Unicef to Coca-Cola, Hawkins trains sports coaches across Indonesia to deliver workshops that last anywhere from a single day to several weeks.
The premise is simple: kids receive interactive classroom instruction, which is then reinforced on the playing field. Students go over a quick lesson filled with lively discussions and role-playing exercises, and about an hour later they demonstrate what they’ve learned through drills and games.
Given that the series in Tangerang focuses on social development, it’s easy to see why football is an effective learning tool. In fact, last Friday’s lesson on sportsmanship and fair play is almost more difficult to teach off the field than on it.
“Life skills is the natural fit for sports development and self-confidence,” Hawkins said.
But while the idea of teaching sportsmanship through sports appears to be a no-brainer, some of the ASA Foundation’s other lessons seem like a surprising match when paired with football.
From disaster risk reduction in Aceh to conflict mitigation in Central Sulawesi to AIDS awareness in Papua, Hawkins tries to tackle some of the country’s most complex and prevalent problems. Sure, it’s easy enough to envision HIV prevention tips in the classroom, but on the football field?
“We use the football as a condom,” he said, explaining an exercise in which children learned about how the disease is transmitted. “If you’re holding the ball, you’re immune.”
The fact that sports and complicated social issues sound like an odd pairing might be the program’s biggest strength, Hawkins explained. Whereas other non-profits find mild success in traditional approaches, football is something that not only everyone understands, but everyone loves.
“With sports development, it’s a very soft approach,” he said. “Because of that, we’ve found it much easier to go into conflict areas than some other NGOs.”
Hawkins’ foundation was launched about 10 years ago, when he decided to make the transition from holding one-time events for other organizations to pursuing his own work full-time. On top of his non-profit work, Hawkins runs a football academy in Jakarta that trains kids of all ages; a position for which he’s well qualified, given the eight years he spent in a professional English league.
Over the years, his foundation has grown immensely, becoming popular with both nongovernmental and corporate sponsors alike. Bank Permata, Coca-Cola and Kelme are some of ASA’s regular partners, and USAID and Unicef have been teaming up with Hawkins for quite some time. In addition to longstanding relationships, Hawkins continues to forge new ones, as he did with the life skills workshop in Tangerang.
For the first time, Hawkins collaborated with Andy Noya, of the popular television show “Kick Andy,” who seems to be quite pleased with the partnership. The kids love having a “bule” (foreigner) coach, Noya joked, while glancing at Hawkins. But having positive role models is the most important thing.
“These kids come from slum areas,” Noya said, watching them from the sidelines. “But now [with this program], we can create new, positive attitudes.”
The learning at each workshop is twofold. Aside from the academic lessons, which are tested both at the end of a program, and halfway through, the children’s sports skills are monitored and evaluated as well. And it’s not only football. Although it’s certainly the sport of choice, given both its popularity and Hawkins’ personal experience, students have the option to vote and have chosen volleyball and basketball in the past.
While the programs are temporary, the sports don’t stop when the sessions do. Each time a workshop wraps up, the foundation leaves the footballs and field markers behind. And the students get to keep the uniforms and shoes that they are given on the first day as well.
As Ramadan nears, Hawkins and his staff will take a much-needed break. But as soon as school is back in session, ASA coaches will again fan out across the country, driving — or should we say, kicking — home some of life’s most important lessons.
For more information, visit www.asaasiafoundation.org