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  • Writer's pictureGail Spence

A football partnership made in heaven

This was a difficult article to write, but many continue to express their admiration and love for the extraordinary football partnership of Rhea and Ritchie. By writing, we are able to express our sadness and hope that they will continue to live in our hearts always, especially when we see children playing and enjoying the game of football.

The football is passed

Children around the world face threats to their very being from extreme poverty and all forms of abuse, and the Philippines is no exception. At Football for Humanity (FFH), we use the power of play to educate, empower and protect vulnerable children facing the threat of abuse, exploitation and trafficking. To do this we have relied on kind-hearted individuals who have committed to helping us achieve our goals. And we’ve found this–and more–with our dedicated community champions.

One of the most admired coaches was Rhea Baldeviso, a new coach and community champion who came to us in 2021. Just 32 years old, Rhea, a coveted referee in the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and devoted mother, worked determinedly alongside her husband, Ritchie, for the football community in their town of Montalban, Rizal. Heartbreakingly, tragedy struck in November 2021 when Rhea and her husband lost their lives in an accident, leaving their three boys, the youngest at just two months old, and a gaping hole in their community.

Both Rhea and Ritchie were renowned referees in the PFF

The Football for Humanity family across the Philippines rallied immediately. It is something we’ve all struggled to comprehend. As those who knew her, we admired her infectious energy and commitment to our cause, her children and those children she coached in her community. We wanted to honour Rhea and keep her memory alive, and one of the best ways we could do this was by fulfilling her legacy. We’re so pleased that Coach Donaliza Navarro, who shares the same dedication and passion for children and football as Rhea, has also kept the light burning by taking over the Montalban group.

Coach Donaliza discusses important social issues to her football group

Remembering Rhea

Through laughter and tears, best friend, Donaliza, shared her memories of Rhea and how she’s honouring her memory by continuing her work. Donaliza tells us that they had so many things in common, football being at the top of that list. Both football scholars, they realised that without it they might not have been able to finish college and have successful lives. Indeed, Donaliza says that they owe their lives to football. A good player herself, Donaliza recalls Rhea being ‘an unbeatable terror on the pitch’. As they grew older, they sometimes seemed closer than friends, like sisters, with Donaliza’s parents even seeing Rhea as a daughter, and Donaliza being godmother to one of Rhea’s children.

Coach Donaliza with Rhea's children

Donaliza is passionate about continuing Rhea’s dream of football in the community, keeping Rhea’s legacy alive, with the help of Football for Humanity. They both wanted to develop and motivate children in the community, finding exceptional talent that could grant these children the same opportunities that they had–like a good college education–so that they have a chance at improving their lives, not only for themselves, but for future generations. A legacy with the hope that they too, one day, give back to the community like Rhea did and Donaliza is doing now, something that can be repeated for generations to come. A goal that Football for Humanity is supporting with.

The biggest obstacle

‘Poverty is the biggest obstacle’ Donaliza says, citing the reason why many children can’t start or continue playing football, or even reach their full potential. When there is little or no money for food, then there is also no money for playing with their friends. The coaches often help with their own money where they can, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Aside from money, Donaliza strives to offer other encouragements and motivations to help the children. ‘Play football’, she tells them, ‘treat life like football’. Doing this, and doing their best in football and life, she says, will help them overcome their difficulties. Donaliza believes that football is a great equaliser and healer, and it gives children a safe space to share worries and problems with friends, so that they can all learn from each other.

Children play in a safe community created by Football for Humanity safeguarding teams

Sadly, Donaliza and others may come across children who have been victimised or subjected to abuse, exploitation and violence. She believes the best healer is listening, without judgement, and allowing the child to tell their story, unburden their trauma, so that they may then get the help they need. And that’s what we are there for, to support and listen to these children, give them a voice, and a way to fight back and recover from the hardships they continue to face. Coach Rhea did this, and Coach Donaliza continues her legacy in the community. Together with Football for Humanity and her team, she can create a safe space where children can express their dreams, and use football as a bridge to a better future.

Rhea and Ritchie, may your love live on for all eternity

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