When I stepped off the plane in Curitiba, Brasil in 2014 I immediately knew I had made a mistake. It wasn’t the move halfway around the world or the fact that I couldn’t speak a word of Portuguese, it was that I hadn’t packed a single long sleeved shirt or coat and it was absolutely freezing when I stepped off the airplane. I had left the northern hemisphere summer just in time for the start of the South American winter and I had made the classic “I’m moving to Brasil, who needs a jacket” mistake.
But on this first day I didn’t just notice the cold, I caught a glimpse of a city full of paradoxes.
The first thing I noticed was that Curitiba although fully Brasilian is actually very European. You can watch Barca’s M.S.N. in Spanish square, try Ukrainian food on a street corner or find yourself cheering on a team founded by German immigrants. It has European architecture and an efficient bus system that according to Curitibanos can rival any in Europe. Secondly, when you think Brasil you probably picture sunshine and beaches but Curitibanos dress for all four seasons every single day. The weather can turn on a dime and its more of the rule than the exception that you get some sort of daily downpour, blistering sunshine and gale force wind.
Then the paradox I felt the most, you can drive five minutes in one direction to the nicest mall and set of restaurants you have ever experienced and then drive in the opposite direction for five minutes and be absolutely heartbroken at the standard of living in one of the local favelas or slums.
Favelas are formed when the poor and marginalized build shanty homes out of salvaged material usually on the outside of cities and the first time I stepped foot in Parolin reality hit me like a brick wall. Jaqi wanted to visit one of her player’s homes because he had bruises on his arm and she wanted to make sure he wasn’t being abused at home. As we made our way to the home dogs barked, shards of glass glistened off the walls and I tried frantically tried to remember the last time I had a tetanus shot. After a brief conversation, Jaqi made her way back to the main street and continued her daily routine chatting with families and checking up on the children from the project. I left with anticipation for what was to come in Parolin.
You see, it’s the type of place that makes you feel alive and at the same time the conditions make you question how life is possible. The type of place where locals raise your eyebrows when you tell them you work there and yet every time you go you get mobbed by hugs and cant help but laugh at the unbridled joy seen in the goal celebrations. It’s the type of place your sense of awareness feels heightened to some sort of Mesut Özil level and yet you feel every single person you’ve crossed paths with has your back.
And it is here where Jaqi’s life collides with reality. Somewhere inside the paradox of struggle and hope. In this cluster of streets families collect recyclables city wide and exchange them for food stamps. Fathers are nearly nonexistent either from abandonment, drunkenness, or death. If you have any hope in Parolin it is to get out of Parolin and it is for this reason that Jaqi’s story is so fascinating to me. Jaqi grew up in the community. As a girl she was gifted and played for Parana and Atletico (two of the professional teams in the area) and found a way to make a living. She could have got out, but rather than take the chance and run, she stayed. Her passion for her community transformed her into not just a football coach, but mother, aunt, sister, teacher, guardian, tutor, and encourager to hundreds of kids the last twenty years. In a world where beauty and pain collide with every footstep, she is the first shoulder to cry on in time of trouble and also the first one to straighten the kids out and encourage them to work hard in school, help their families around the house, make strong friendships and work hard at whatever they do.
In 2012 I wrote down a list of things I wanted to see happen in Brasil because it is one thing to talk about leaving a legacy, and its another thing to shape it, mould it, and watch it come to fruition. One of those things was to train up local leaders and to both empower them, encourage them, and equip them to be able to impact their communities though football, education and other passions they possess. Last week I had the privilege of attending a PremierSkills coaching seminar with Jaqi and it was a dream brought to life. Through our local partners: Premier Skills, The British Council, The Spurs Foundation and Clube Atlético Paranaense Jaqi had a week of intense training, coaching, and education to take back with her to the community of Parolin. The smile on Jaqi’s face after the first day told the story. She was a sponge, soaking up every word and already thinking about how she could adapt what she was learning into life in Parolin.
Yesterday I witnessed Jaqi deliver a session like never before. Her excitement was evident, communication was clear, and her passion was palpable. The kids fed off her energy and literally three hours later we wrapped up the best session we have ever had in Parolin. As I looked around, I noticed smiles on every face.
I believe that this is just the beginning of Jaqi’s story in Parolin. I believe this week served as a launching pad to horizon change that echoes into the next five, ten, or twenty years in Jaqi’s community. Despite the conditions, there is hope in Parolin and it is personified in Jaqi as she transfers hope on to everyone she works alongside. Now when I think about legacy in Curitiba I don’t think about just a word or concept, I see and perceive legacy. It’s Jaqi’s story.
with Passion and Belief,
Tadeu (Thaddaeus Taylor)