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Meet Diane: Helping Brazilian Children Play Together Safely & Inclusively through Inspiration, Innovation


By Kent Page, UNICEF Brazil – São Luis, Maranhão State, Brazil

“I know what it’s like to have to overcome challenges in life,” says Diane Sousa. “And I know you can’t always do it alone. We all need some help in our lives and my dream is to help Brazilian children just the way others have helped me in my life.”

Within two minutes of meeting Diane, you know you’re in the presence of a special young woman from her optimism, enthusiasm and spirit. And when you see children in vulnerable Brazilian neighbourhoods playing and learning in what she helped create, you know she is already helping thousands of Brazilian children. And possibly many more in other countries because her idea is being replicated by a world famous company. And since Diane is committed to helping, her innovative idea can also be replicated by any organization that wants to help vulnerable children.

“My grandmother is illiterate, my parents are semi-illiterate and I grew up in poor neighbourhood in São Bento, Maranhão State, one of the poorest states of Brazil,” says Diane. “When I was thirteen, I joined the Brazilian NGO Instituto Formação’s adolescent citizenship activities which changed my life. I loved to play football and although it was not a sport played by many girls then, I could play football at Formação because, like UNICEF, they want all girls and boys to develop to their full potential. But it’s not all play. We participate in youth forums to discuss adolescent rights, education, music, sports for development, social inclusion – all so we can help make a better society in Brazil.”

“I learned a lot in Formação participating in workshops and eventually became a mediator for children playing street football in the ‘FutRua3’ programme,” she says. “In 2010, I participated in global adolescent network forums in Rwanda and in KickFair in Germany. I also taught mediation to young people from 34 countries at the FIFA Football for Hope Festival in South Africa the same year.”

These exchanges exposed Diane to new cultures, new friends and new ideas. “I learned so much from what other people were doing. When I came back, I shared what I had seen and with the help of UNICEF, the REJUPE adolescent network and Escola de Mediação, we improved how Formação taught mediation to adolescents for ‘FutRua3’.”

Diane also saw something that inspired her in Germany: large walls set up for teenagers to play football where there was nowhere to play. But they were big, heavy and expensive and required large trucks to transport them so they only moved around Germany a couple of times a year.

Diane had her inspiration, and now thought about innovation. “I wondered how we could help bring football to small children in low-income communities in Brazil – like São Bento where there was no football field when I grew up - so girls and boys could play football together safely while having fun and learning at the same time.” Diane was eighteen.

Working with other adolescents and with Formação’s co-founder, Regina Cabral and a local designer, within eight weeks they had produced the first ‘Quadra Bolação’. That means ‘Action Ball Square’, but it’s really a modular rectangle that creates an inexpensive, mobile football field. Easily transportable, it creates a safe, colourful, happy space for girls and boys to play and learn.

“The first ‘Quadra Bolação’ was all green in colour. It was inaugurated in May 2013 at the Brazilian Educational Sports Mediation Meeting, coordinated by Formação with UNICEF’s support. It was so fun when we set it up for the first time in my home town of São Bento. No-one knew what it was because they had never seen anything like it. The kids thought it was a boat and some adults thought we were building a pool!” But everyone understood the brilliance of its simple design when a football was produced and games were played. It was a big hit with children and adults alike.

Through innovation, Diane had transformed her inspiration into something that people were now requesting to be brought to their communities. Her idea was so popular that in only eight months in 2013, the ‘Quadra’ had travelled 42 times to different vulnerable communities in Brazil to the joy of thousands of Brazilian girls and boys, with 35 visits to communities scheduled in 2014.

Demand was so high that a second ‘Quadra’ was produced by January 2014 with improvements including bright pink, white and blue walls that were lighter and more durable so a small pick-up truck could transport it easily. It can be set up virtually anywhere in about twenty minutes. UNICEF and Formação developed cartoon drawings on the mobile football field walls that easily explain to children how ‘FutRua3’ is played and including important values like the importance of playing fair, including everyone in the game, and respecting each other.

But two mobile football fields are not enough for Brazil’s children. “I am really proud when I see children playing in a ‘Quadra Bolação’ and to know that others believe in my idea,” says Diane. Indeed they do believe: FIFA World Cup sponsor SONY, and the NGO StreetFootballWorld, are in the process of building twenty ‘Quadras’ with Formação’s authorization - and possibly another seventy for use in low-income communities in Brazil and other countries.

“I believe ‘Quadra Bolação’s’ can positively change children’s lives,” says Diane. “By playing football together, girls and boys not only have fun, but they also learn important life skills in a safe and inclusive way. Sports are not a privilege, but are a right for every child – girls and boys - no matter what their background or ability.”

Feedback comes from nine-year old Sygrid, who played football for the first time this weekend when a ‘Quadra’ arrived in her community. “I feel happy when I am playing,” she says after her game. “It makes me feel good and free, and we are all laughing a lot while we are running for the ball. We didn’t win, but we had fun and we made up our own rules.”

So, what’s next after you’ve helped create something that helps children and that international companies have invested in? Diane is now in university in São Luis studying law - but not to become a corporate lawyer. “I’m interested in human rights law and I want to work in areas that help protect children. I just want to keep helping Brazilian children so we can improve our society and all children here can have a better life.”

Easily transported by a small pick-up truck, the brightly coloured 3.5 foot-high walls of the ‘Quadra Bolação’ are quickly set-up with a small goal net at each end. The modular design allows the mobile football field size - 10x12 metres; 12x16 metres; or 14x18 metres - to be adjusted to the available space for the game, as agreed with the local community. UNICEF Brazil’s partnership and support of Instituto Formação and the REJUPE adolescent network are part of its strategy to strengthen civil society capacity and empower communities to develop and implement public policies and actions for safe and inclusive sports. This is aligned to UNICEF’s global #TeamUNICEF vision for a better, more equitable world where every child can play sports safely and inclusively, while having fun in a way that positively transforms their lives.


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