Faces of Payatas: Meet Ronalyn & The Impact of Safe Spaces

Ronalyn Cheer

Faces of Payatas: Meet Ronalyn & the Impact of Having a Safe Space.

Just over six years ago we met Ronalyn, in amongst the chaos of another training session in the early days of Payatas Football Club. She was 13 years old and coming from swimming in a nearby river where people now wash plastic they’ve scavenged from the garbage trucks. She was hesitant and uncertain, not sure what to expect, as she walked towards the small, basketball court where fifty to sixty kids were crowded into groups doing basic football drills.

“We had nothing to do, so we joined there.” She explained. She was feeling shy and a little anxious, unsure what to expect. After all, most of the kids had never seen football before, let alone played it.

Loud commands filled the air, directions from the coach for kids to fall into the groups as the place was so crowded you couldn’t move outside the narrow channels without bumping into others. Ronalyn, a little late, was pointed towards one of the groups who were passing the ball between their feet one by one in a simple footwork drill.

She had little time to watch or to think about what she would do before suddenly the ball was rolling towards her. She pointed her foot towards the ball and it bounced off and rolled away off her toes. She quickly looked round, expecting to be reprimanded, and was relieved to see the coach was busy with another group. At school and at home any time a mistake was made they were immediately shouted at for it. Someone was always shouting at them.

Ronalyn raced after the ball, but now overbalanced, got it stuck between her feet. She stumbled awkwardly, losing control of the ball a couple more times before eventually passing it onto the player waiting at the other side of the court. She breathed a sigh of relief as she passed the ball on.

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It didn’t feel like long before the other kids had finished their turn and the ball was rolling towards Ronalyn again. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the coach now walking towards their group and she panicked. The ball rebounded off her toes again. The coach shouted towards one of the other kids and he stretched out his foot to control the ball as it was passed back to him. He picked it up, and strode towards Ronalyn. She bowed her head waiting to be scolded.

“This is your first time?” the coach asked. Ronalyn, surprised the white guy was speaking in broken Tagalog, mumbled ‘yes’ under her breath.

“OK, well nice try. Go slowly so you can learn” the coach lifted his foot and as he explained what to do “Use this part of the foot when you control and then pass it slowly between your feet, not too hard, and go slowly.”

As Ronalyn stumbled through the drill, she was encouraged and made it to the other side, slowly understanding the idea of controlling the ball.

“Great, you improved!” The coach said. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Ronalyn” she replied.

“Keep doing that and you’ll get better” the coach said as he walked off to the next group.

Soon afterwards Ronalyn wandered into Fairplay’s drop-in center. At the time, this was a rundown shack along the main road of Payatas. As the oldest kid going to the center, she formed a bond with Naomi, who co-founded Fairplay and was running the center then. This positive relationship was key for Ronalyn, as she became a regular at both our drop-in center and football team. She joined the education sponsorship program and, with a safe space to learn and play throughout the week and weekend, she thrived.

She was also featured in the FIFA Futbol Mundial section back then too.

And while Ronalyn talks about her dreams of playing in the Street Child World Cup, at this point she could never have dreamed about what came next…

Three years later

Ronalyn was standing in the middle of Fluminense’s stadium, a team in Brazil’s First Division. Brazilian legend Romario once played for the club, but none of the history and the legend mattered. The only thing that mattered was the next thirty minutes.

Ronalyn was here to represent her country in the final of the Street Child World Cup. She was standing ready to face hosts Brazil, having helped to bring the team to the final. She was selected as part of Team Philippines; three of whom, including Ronalyn, came from Payatas, three from SOS Village Davao, and three from other groups (Gawad Kalinga, Kids International Ministries, and Mango Tree House). The Philippines had beaten South Africa, El Salvador, and England to get to the Semi Finals against Mozambique. That was a testy game, the Philippines had chances but couldn’t convert them until Ronalyn picked up the ball in a bit of space, shimmied past a defender, and let fly. The keeper couldn’t handle the power of the shot and Ronalyn scored the goal that got the Philippines to the final. You can see her goal, and a few other highlights, in the first game below.

In the final, the Philippines were playing against Brazil, in front of a crowd so big even the best clubs in the Philippines couldn’t reach at the time. The girls fought hard, but lost 1-0 to hosts Brazil. They came off in tears but had still achieved a remarkable feat as the only country in the entire competition where football is not the number one sport. And most importantly they also helped to show back home, in the Philippines, that no matter your background if you are given a fair chance, provided the same opportunities everyone else has in safe spaces to play and to learn, you can achieve so much.

Three more years later…

Another three years later and Ronalyn is standing in the middle of Payatas Football Club’s own futsal court. One of two courts under construction that host leagues, tournaments, festivals, and other events. She stands in the middle directing her younger players in a calm, decided tone. She gives quick instructions to her players, organising the area, and she has fun with them.

Ronalyn has now graduated from High School in the top 5 in her huge class. She is on track to graduating with distinction from her Senior High too (Grade 11 & 12 before University). She has her eyes set on getting a Football Scholarship at the University of the Philippines Diliman, one of the top Universities in the country, and is working towards that dream, both on and off the pitch. If she can continue to work on her academics and her playing, then a girl who once dropped out of one of the worst performing public schools in the country, in one of the poorest areas, has a real shot of getting there.

Ronalyn is 19 years old now. She may not the best coach in the world but to her kids she is the only one that matters. And her players are improving. She is helping them feel supported in an environment that is otherwise unsafe and toxic (because of both the garbage and toxic waste and the trauma children here face on a regular basis). The younger players look up to her as a role model and a friend. She has a lot to learn but she has already come a long way. We are proud of how she continues to mature and progress.

What happens next?

The video above was financed by Poverty Child, a UK non-profit fundraising for us to be able to reach more children. Ronalyn is one of our success stories showing the impact of giving a child a fair chance; if they have a safe space, support from mentors and friends, and are trusted to learn and grow, they can achieve so much. With the support of individuals, companies, and different groups, we were able to provide this for Ronalyn. You can join in with Poverty Child’s campaign here: www.standup.raisely.com and Contract Us for more information.

Many of the children we work with scavenge through garbage and work in other ways. Their lives are at a crossroads, just as Ronalyn’s was when she first found Fairplay. With a safe space to play, learn, and grow, each of these kids can find the right path for them, their future, and their families.

This campaign is looking for people to donate, of course, but it’s also looking for people to do something fun and creative to support this goal. As others have done in the past, you could run a marathon, shave off all your hair, or jump out of a plane to parachute. Or do something completely different. Everyone has their own skills and talents, and you can do something fun too.

The opportunities are as limited as our imagination…

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