An Israeli organization that seeks to educate and promote disadvantaged youth through soccer is helping residents of an island in the Philippines deal with the trauma of Typhoon Haiyan.
Channel 10 news reported Saturday that four activists with Mifalot: Education and Society Enterprises came to work at the disaster-struck island of Bantayan in March, teaching locals to play the game which, surprisingly, virtually no one in Bantayan had ever heard of.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippine archipelago in November. It devastated the region, killing at least 6,000 people and leaving over 600,000 homeless and millions of others without basic supplies.
The storm was followed by a large-scale international relief effort which included hundreds of millions of dollars in donations as well as many humanitarian aid teams sent to the country, among them an Israeli medical team.
Almost six months later, the region – Bantayan included — is still recovering, and rebuilding efforts continue.
“The parents here are entirely in survival mode,” activist Roy Sivan told Channel 10. “And this leaves the children here loitering around the island with nothing to do.”
Mifalot has a history of 15 years working with endangered youth in Israel. In recent years it has developed programs to treat children in disaster-struck regions, which they have implemented in Haiti and Africa.
As most aid efforts concentrate on rebuilding infrastructure and homes, the Israeli group aims to put the well-being of local children in focus, using soccer as a type of occupational therapy.
And so the Israeli team found itself in Bantayan, a small island hard-hit by the storm, with a population of just over 100,000 people.
Sivan said the team was surprised by the locals’ lack of knowledge of the game, although basketball is very popular there. “In most of the world, soccer is a sport that comes from poverty, really, from the…struggling neighborhoods, from the most difficult places,” Sivan said. But in the Philippines, he said, the game is considered an “elitist sport.”
“Our goal here is to teach them a little soccer, because here on the island they don’t know soccer at all,” he said.
Another activist, Yishai Yagol, said the group’s genuine desire to interact and play with the children immediately won them over. “Children are children – anywhere. And we just have to reach them,” he said.
The team has proved very popular with the local youth.
“I love them and they love me and they love each other much more“ as a result of the experience, Yagol said. “I didn’t do anything special. I just came with a ball, broken English and that’s enough,” he joked.