Disability no barrier to volunteers' enthusiasm

As he does on every matchday in the host city of Chillan, Pedro gets up, has breakfast and gets everything ready in order to arrive on time for his shift at the Estadio Nelson Oyarzun Arenas, 90 minutes before the start of the first game.

The 22-year-old, who has general learning disabilities, is one of the many participants in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 Volunteer Programme. “I’m having a great time,” he told FIFA.com with a broad smile on his face.

“The U-17 World Cup’s arrival in Chillan, and the invitation extended to Pedro and other boys with disabilities, has been a real gift for them and for their families,” said Myrna Arenas, Pedro’s teacher at the Las Acacias Special School and also a volunteer at the tournament. “I’ve known Pedro for over ten years, and he is definitely happy. He’s already told the whole school what he’s doing at the World Cup. He comes in every morning asking me about the match schedule; he knows all the fixtures off by heart!”

In total, there are nine boys and men with special needs among the approximately 170 volunteers helping out in Chillan during Chile 2015. The youngest volunteers work as ball boys, while those over 18, such as Pedro, lend a hand with ticketing and welcoming duties. “I greet people coming to watch the match and help them,” he explained.

“The main goal here is to help to break down barriers and promote inclusion,” explained Jorge Briones, head of the volunteer programme in Chillan. “Pedro and his workmates are permanently accompanied by physical education graduates specialising in disability issues. We want to show that these boys have a lot more to offer than just being a member of a team. We started working with them a month before the start of the U-17 World Cup, and we’re convinced that it’s been a marvellous experience for them.”

Inclusive initiative As far as Arenas is concerned, the inclusion programme is extremely beneficial for all concerned. “I think the fact that they have the possibility of working alongside other volunteers is a positive thing from both points of view. On the one hand, it’s great for the boys, because they don’t get out much, and this type of interaction does them a world of good,” she said.

“But it’s also beneficial for the rest of the volunteers, because it’s a way of raising awareness of the existence of people with handicaps and taking the right steps towards inclusion.”

Pedro, who never stops smiling, appears delighted to be able to play a part in the U-17 World Cup. “I feel proud and privileged to have been chosen. The part I love most about the job is meeting new people,” he said.

“I hope to get the chance to get to know some of the players as well! Aside from Chile, the team I really like is Mexico.” Indeed, El Tri, who played their first two matches of the tournament in Chillan, have received considerable backing from local fans.

Before getting down to his duties of ticket checking and escorting fans to their seats, Pedro shares a final pertinent thought: “My parents told me that they were proud of me and that it’s important for me to be here, because I can achieve a big goal. Nothing is impossible. You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.”

Whatever happens, there is little doubt that the U-17 World Cup Volunteer Programme will have made a major impact in Pedro’s life.