A 16-year-old Brazilian boy teaches an enchanted 15-year-old Cambodian girl how to samba. A Costa Rican taps an Australian on the shoulder, hides behind a Zambian and they all erupt in laughter. A bubbly bunch made up of a German, a Palestinian, a Kenyan, an American and two Brazilians blurt out the Queen mega-hit We Are The Champions. Another ebullient sextet are doing the Cuban Conga! Giggles, cheers and hugs are incessant as activities unfold.
Welcome to the Football for Hope Festival 2014 in Caju, a poor district in Rio de Janeiro. Welcome to the experience of a lifetime for 192 youngsters from 27 nations from seven continents.
They arrived on Wednesday, six teenagers apiece from the 32 participating organisations. On Thursday the activities began. The teenagers were separated from their compatriots and friends for games such as 'rock, paper, scissors, shoot', with the morning activities aimed at getting them to integrate with others who speak different languages.
“I can samba!” said the aforementioned Cambodian, giggling widely. “I’m so happy. I never imagined I would have an opportunity like this. It’s even better than I imagined. I was shy at first but now I already have so many friends.”
Rob O’Connor from British organisation *Street League *was hoping to be able to compete with his mates from north-east England. He’s glad he didn’t.
“I didn’t want to get split up at first, but I think it made it much better. I got to meet so many people – from Brazil, from Vietnam, from all these other places – and I got along with them all.
“The activities were class. It’s just been amazing. Being out here and getting together with all the delegations, it really puts it into perspective how much football really does change lives and bring people together. Words can’t describe this experience.”
Lucas, from the *Vila Olimpica Mane Garrincha *programme, is actually from Caju, but this is a far cry from his usual day.
“There’s a lot of drugs and violence where I live,” he explained. “Having an opportunity like this is incredible. I’ve made so many friends. I could have never imagined making friends with people from France, Australia and India. Everyone is really nice.
“The activities are really fun. And we are all just laughing the whole time, everybody together. This is just an incredible experience.”
In 2014, FIFA is supporting 108 organisations financially through its Football for Hope program - 26 from Brazil. Many of them have submitted a proposal on why coming to the Football for Hope Festival 2014 would benefit them in the moment and the future. The best 32 were chosen for a paradisiacal adventure. The organisations then had to select three boys and three girls to represent them - a tough task given that some have upwards of 250.
“It was unbelievable,” a 15-year-old girl from *Fundacao EPROCAD *in Sao Paulo said of discovering she had been chosen. “I still can’t believe I’m here. I’m so, so happy.”
All the youngsters will attend the quarter-final at the Maracana on Friday, and France fan Praveen Kumar took a break from debating with his Germany-supporting friend to concur: “I was very happy to get this opportunity,” said the youngster from *Dream A Dream *in India. “It’s been such a great experience. We’ve been making friends with people from all over the world. We’re all very happy.”
Happiness was something there was a lot of on Day 1 of the Football for Hope Festival… along with giggles, singing and dancing.