• Umerah Riyasat

Girls in Charge

This is story is based on a young female-led activity deep in the Filipino province of Guihulngan City, where Football for Humanity activities promote human rights and gender equality.

Although they had very poor internet connection, I spent a lovely morning over zoom speaking to these inspiring, bright, young, aspirational female leaders and the man developing these incredible people, Coach Peter Lim. As an adult, I was inspired by this group of teenagers and their strong ambitions to succeed in their difficult circumstances.

What are the main issues that they face in everyday life?

18-year-old Carla Amad, one of the young female project leaders, said; “Rape is a reality. As a female, it is your responsibility to be respectful and to be careful about your appearance. Be decent and do not wear any attire that will seem sexual. To prevent harassment, we have to be modest.” Another topic discussed was the ongoing issue of unwanted teenage pregnancies among Filipino girls.

Teenage pregnancy is a significant issue in this Filipino community. According to NPR, the University of the Philippines Population Institute is predicting a baby boom in 2021- an estimated 751,000 additional unplanned pregnancies due to the financial and straining effects of the Covid- 19 pandemic. www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/08/21/photos-the-hidden-lives-of-teen-moms.

Here in the UK, we get the help when we need if going through that unfortunate situation of falling pregnant whilst in school or in college. Usually, girls get support to finish education at a later date or go down alternative career paths. They also get financial support from the government. There is always a solution for those going through an unplanned pregnancy but that is not the reality for the Filipino girl.

Belle Tiongco, co-founder of Football for Humanity said; “You are on your own. There is no help from the government and that’s why it’s a problem. If you are young and you get pregnant, you feel that life is over because you can’t get a career or finish your studies. It’s hard to move forward, as you have to care for the family”. Carla added, “There is also gun violence and armed conflict which is why kids aren’t allowed to go out due to the dangers”. The most worrisome of this is that these young people accept these conditions as the norm; it is their reality.

For these young girls, the turning point was when Coach Peter brought them all together to be part of Carabell Football Club (Carabell FC). Peter has been running this club since November 2019, when he established it after getting inspiration from British coach Owen Southgate, founder and mentor of National Youth Football Association (NYFA SWEDEN). Owen partnered with Football for Humanity to conduct a three-day football coaching course to 30 Filipino coaches from different parts of the Philippines www.thephilbiznews.com/football-for-humanity-gets-support-from-british-chamber.

Belle excitedly said: “Owen expressed his willingness to do training here so Chris and I invited him to do a coach training series all over the country. In November 2019, we gathered coaches from all over, especially those from disadvantaged areas. We were not about finding elite players and coaches.

It is about spreading football to those who are marginalized. These coaches do community work. They not only develop players; they develop the community as well”. Coach Peter Lim said: “At first I started with only 10 players. Today I have more than 100 players and it has only been less than 2 years. We only played for like 2-3 months at the start and then we got put in lockdown”.

Belle added; “They are all about inclusion and equality. There are as many females as boys, playing equally. They don’t have a pitch; they just play in a clearing… in a jungle! There are banana trees all over. They tried to make the ground level and put the markings on it manually.

I see the girls participating in this and constructing goals. This is why we encouraged them to do an International Women’s Day tournament, which they did successfully on March the 6th. Mary Buen, female project leader said: “I was motivated by what I read, which said that International Women’s Month "celebrates acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who played an extra role in the history of their countries and communities." I would like to really play a role in the transformation of the girls in my community.”

18-year-old, Perlyn Calugcugan, female project leader added; “Women’s Month is to give strength and encouragement to females. It is also necessary for gender equality. This celebration is for women and it gives acknowledgment to them.

It is to value each other and to respect each other. As a woman, I am proudly confident, and I believe we should all be treated equally so we all have beautiful smiles on our faces”. The Philippines is not a footballing country. In Guihulngan City, if it were not for coach Peter, there wouldn’t be that strong push for football. In the UK, we have a strong competitive program for football, that is well funded and celebrated and watched by millions across the world.