How Soccer Is Changing Kids’ Lives In Costa Rica
Dec 13, 2017
In its three years of existence, Tacos4Ticos has experienced rapid expansion, while still aiming for the same goal it had at the outset. To change lives through soccer.
“For kids in these areas, football provides an opportunity to escape. To get beyond the day-to-day dilemmas of how well they will sleep, where their food will come from or how safe they feel.” Adam Baker, co-founder of Tacos4Ticos
Two Brits start coaching soccer
When Adam Baker and Richard Bexon met Keith Holder at a British Embassy event in 2014, they chanced upon an opportunity.
Holder is the founder of Educación Plus, a charitable organization based in San Jose. Educación Plus works to improve the lives of youths living in underprivileged neighborhoods through sports, bible studies, camps, and academic help.
“He explained the soccer program and said he was always looking for volunteers,” said Baker.
They spent the first year donating their time by coaching once a week for two hours.
“We weren’t getting paid to do this, we were coaching for the love of soccer and to help the kids out,” Baker continued.
In England, soccer is football
Both Baker and Bexon – who work for Namu Travel, a network of luxury travel agencies in Central America – came to Costa Rica from the UK in the early 2000s.
For Baker, soccer was a means to integrate himself into the local way of life.
“I coached football for almost a year when I first came to Costa Rica,” he said. “It was great for spending two hours of my working week being active and working in the local area.”
“Adam and I love football. For us, we would give back some of our football knowledge to kids and help give them the capacity to get out of their day-to-day lives, whatever that may be,” Bexon said.
Fast forward a year and they wanted to do something more
“We wanted to do something closer to the office to get more staff members involved,” explained Baker. “So we began Tacos4Ticos.”
Tacos4Ticos launched in 2015. With the help of Educación Plus, they set up their own soccer school in Pavas, one San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods, with over 80,000 inhabitants.
“We got access to a local stadium, the kids would come up for two hours every Thursday, and we coached our own team,” Baker said.
Taking things further with Tacos4Ticos
It didn’t take long for Baker and Bexon to notice the wretched condition of the gear the kids were playing in. They determined this was something they could help with.
“Some of them showed up with broken, falling-apart soccer cleats or even barefoot,” Bexon said. “And we were like, ‘Wow, with all the clients Namu is managing, maybe we could get some of them to bring stuff down.’”
Sure enough, Namu clients, once informed, cooperated with enthusiasm. Soccer cleats, shin guards, socks, and even balls soon began to turn up at the Namu office in suitcases.
“As the project has expanded, we’ve had to extend our network of schools,” Baker said. “We have too many donations coming in, which is an excellent problem to have!”
Meanwhile, in Guanacaste…
Another Namu employee, Gabriela Sanmiguel, went to Obandito School in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province to donate gear.
“The students at Obandito don’t have the means to buy soccer gear, or the infrastructure necessary to play, unlike other kids,” said Sanmiguel.
“For them, just to have a pair of soccer boots, shorts and a t-shirt to practice in makes a tremendous impact,” she said. “It makes them want to practice and learn more, which means they could get into competitions or scholarships to university.”
Tacos4Ticos: Helping kids out of crime
Both Baker and Bexon agreed, touching on how kids from these poor communities often slip into a lifestyle of drugs and gang violence.
“When a kid comes out of school, he has two choices: getting good at soccer or robbing people and selling drugs, and we observe a lot of that,” Bexon said.
But football can help reverse that cycle as Baker and Bexon have both seen for themselves.
“For kids in these areas, football provides an opportunity to escape. To get beyond the day-to-day dilemmas of how well they will sleep, where their food will come from or how safe they feel,” Baker said.
“Tacos4Ticos is about having fun and providing a channel, and sports can do that,” added Bexon.
But their efforts have not been without feelings of discouragement.
“Sometimes the kids don’t always adhere to those healthy lifestyle choices. Tacos4Ticos only presents opportunities,” Bexon said.
“We can give the kids opportunities to have trials with professional teams, but it’s up to them to want to do it,” he said. “We can only open the doors — we can’t make them walk through, that’s their choice.”
“I mean, we’re giving them opportunities and choices, but it’s up to them to make the correct decisions, to make mistakes and learn from them. That’s what life’s about.”
Tacos4Ticos and the future
But Bexon and Baker refuse to let these roadblocks slow them down. They both remain insistent that Tacos4Ticos is an effective organization, placing kids at the center.
“You can change their futures and who they’ll become as adults,” Bexon said. “I suppose we’re not trying to change the world. Even if we can impact one kid, we’ll do that, and we’ll know it’s all been worth it.”
As for what the future of Tacos4Ticos looks like, both Bexon and Baker remain uncertain.
“My goal is to work with three or four local schools or NGOs around San Jose to give us the ability to donate on a regular basis and build a relationship with the kids at those schools, while still working with the Tacos4Ticos team in Pavas. I also want to increase staff engagement at Namu and get more of the guys there involved on the coaching side,” says Baker.
“If we can set up another soccer academy somewhere else, that would be great,” Bexon added.
They also plan on training some of their students to become coaches at the schools. This would help the organization become more self-sustaining.
“If we can train some of them up to be coaches, then Tacos4Ticos is taking on a life of its own and we’ve left a legacy.” Richard Bexon, co-founder of Tacos4Ticos
“As for now, we’ll go on doing what we want to do and see where this ride takes us,” Bexon said.
Neither Bexon or Baker have any background in running this type of organization and both admit they are feeling their way with Tacos4Ticos. But they have built up some momentum here, and it is in no danger of slowing down anytime soon.
If you’re interested in donating or volunteering, get in touch with Tacos4Ticos on Facebook or email them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jocelyn Grzeszczak is currently interning with Costa Rican Vacations, a travel agency based in San Jose, Costa Rica. She also serves as the News Editor for her university’s student-run newspaper, The Collegian.