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“Everything changed when soccer was introduced.”

2020 Beyond Sport Global Award Shortlister for Peace & Social Justice, Peace Park Foundation's Hlawula Vutomi Programme, uses soccer to support harmony between conservation and consumption, humans and nature. Read about the impact of the programme on Elisa's (aka Eliziñha) life in Mozambique and then Take the Journey with all our Shortlisters through December at beyondsport.org/journey

19-year-old Elisa lives in Mavodze, a remote village located inside the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique with extremely limited resources and job opportunities.

Living under a traditional patriarchal culture, she was raised with few rights. Many daughters are married off in exchange for livestock.

In 2016, Hlawula Vutomi (‘Choose Life') programme came to Elisa’s village and introduced soccer as a tool to build peaceful relationships within and between communities (Mozambique is still recovering from the effects of the civil war that ended in 1992) and to provide impoverished communities, where wildlife crime is rampant, with a voice. But Elisa did not have an easy time overcoming traditional gender roles to take part in this programme.

“Girls were not allowed to play soccer here. It was very difficult at the start because my mother didn’t allow me to play because she said it was for the boys. I grew up knowing that girls need to be married and do house chores. I even quit school and got married.”

But her coaches changed her mom’s mind and Elisa flourished in the programme. She is a talented goalkeeper for the senior girls team, multiple boys teams and at times for the senior team. In 2017, she was even invited to participate in trials for the capital city’s premier soccer team.

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"Since Hlawula Vutomi started in our area, the boys are no longer troublesome to us. We are no longer scared of getting harassed or abused. Boys now play soccer with us or even support us. Maputo United wants to sign me and I also have an Identity Document."

Elisa has also become an influential leader and mentor to many girls forced into early marriage – herself rescued in 2016. She greatly enjoys the conservation education and contributing to her community.

“Normally when we finish soccer training or multi-village tournaments, we are taught many different things - how animals work together, how litter affects the animals and us, the importance of the Park and how it can provide different job opportunities. These activities create good cooperation and understanding between us and the Park.’’

Her community is also very proud of her, including her mom, who now regularly calls programme facilitators to express her happiness and appreciation for its impact on her daughter's life.

“Everything changed when soccer was introduced. I am always happy. I went back to school, I left my marriage, I have a cell phone, I learnt a lot about the Internet and conservation. I now feel like a human being since I can easily connect to anyone around the world while I am here at my village in Mavodze. I made friends who I can talk to and have fun. Now my family is happy for me and they always encourage me to play. It brought development in my life.’’

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