Los Pioneros: tackling social inequality in Peru for four decades

  • Los Pioneros have been working in El Callao’s poorest neighbourhoods since 1978

  • Through football, the association’s work has benefited many young Peruvians

  • FIFA Foundation provides support to organisation

The neighbourhoods of Chacaritas, Puerto Nuevo, Ciudadela Chalaca and San Juan Bosco are among the most violent in El Callao, a port city on Peru’s Pacific coast that borders the capital Lima. There, since 1978, La Asociacion Los Pioneros (The Pioneers Association) have been playing a vital role in the social integration of Peruvians between the ages of six and 26 through the medium of football.

The social problems faced by these young people have diverse origins but often include poverty, inadequate education, limited opportunities to acquire the requisite skills and training to enter the job market, as well health problems related to lead inhalation – the port of El Callao and its adjoining neighbourhoods are gateways in the export of minerals extracted from Peru’s hinterland.

The consequences of these problems can manifest themselves in things like violence, crime, drugs, dropping out of education, and health and family problems. To try to mitigate these, Los Pioneros turn to sport – and for the most part the most popular sport of all.

“Football is a great tool for social transformation. Through it we contribute to empowering our participants with personal and social skills as well as abilities,” Edward Company, Los Pioneros’ Projects Director, told FIFA.com.

“The benefits are multiple,” he explained. “and can include enhanced social abilities, better self-protection and prevention skills, promoting personal development through resilience training in safe and shared spaces where they can exercise their rights by promoting positive interpersonal relationships.”

During the course of 2019, the work of 15 adults at the Peruvian association has directly benefitted more than 200 young people of both genders. The number of indirect beneficiaries is estimated to exceed 900.

The support of the FIFA Foundation

The support of the FIFA Foundation has been vital to the development of three projects headed up by Los Pioneros: Escuelas de futbol de valores (School of Football Values), Mujeres en accion (Women in Action) and Heroes de Barrios (Neighbourhood Heroes).

The first two utilise the concepts of Futbol3 (three-a-side football) as well as aspects of the National Yachay Programme developed by the Peruvian Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations together with UNICEF.

In the third project, the aim is to “promote teenagers and young people so as to train them in mediation football workshops, conflict resolution and personal-development workshops”, explained Company.

“By forming skills as agents of societal change, they become group leaders and help instil our objectives in the younger members,” he added.

Specific projects with the girls

Nelly Jara, a coordinator with Los Pioneros’ girls group, explained that most of the beneficiaries come from dysfunctional families – in some cases where family violence has been a factor.

“At first, they can show violent attitudes, arguing with each other over tastes and opinions. Over time, and thanks to “Women in Action”, they get better at communicating and being together,” she said.

With the programme, they “learn personal skills that allow them to develop their self-esteem, grow in self-confidence and empower themselves.”

Part of that process is the use of mixed-gender football as an inclusion tool.

“They’ve learned that girls and boys can share the same space without any discrimination. The girls are keen to show that they can enjoy football and learn its skills as well as the boys, demonstrating how they too can master the ball. The same boys, who used to exclude the girls for not being able to play as well as them, are now surprised at their ability.”

What at first seemed unthinkable is now commonplace: “The girls gather in their neighbourhoods or schools to play football – a sport that is now for them as well.”

In addition, they get a taste of journalism and reporting on Pioneros TV” a place where they interview people from the community and give their opinions on everyday matters.