• Chris Thomas

Poverty, armed conflict, contagion… and then there was football

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

By Belle Tiongco

August 19, 2020

The little girl went after the red ball with the ferocious energy of someone intent on scoring a goal. Lithe and agile, nine-year-old Lourdes Calago is one of 27 registered football recruits in the fishing village of Bucana, Barangay Poblacion, Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental.

It is a bright and balmy July 23, almost four months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Philippines in earnest.

Since May, the entire Negros Oriental province in the Central Visayas Region has been under a more relaxed Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), after a hard lockdown or Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in April.

Based on the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATF, “all persons shall now be allowed to go outside their residences” under MGCQ.

And while sports have likewise been allowed, this provision only covers “indoor and outdoor, non-contact sports.”

Still, this caveat on sports has not discouraged Barrio Bucana kids to go out and play football, with the blessings of their parents. With ages ranging from seven to 14, the children trained under Coach Peter Lim, a Football for Humanity (FFH) volunteer.


FFH is an independent charity registered in the United Kingdom and the Philippines. The foundation aims to “harness the power of football to transform the lives of children affected by armed conflict, natural disasters and extreme poverty.”

Lim joined FFH in November 2019 after attending in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental an FFH Coach and Leadership training led by English Football Association (FA) mentor and National Youth Football Association (NYFA) of Sweden founder Owen Southgate.

Chris Nelson, Trustee and Executive Director of the British Chamber, delivers the opening remarks at the Football for Humanity/NYFA Sweden-led training program entitled “World Class Coaching: Leadership Without Ego” which had its first session at the Vermosa Sports Complex in Imus, Cavite. Standing (L to R) Chris Thomas, FFH Founder and President and Owen Southgate, NYFA Sweden Founder

The coach, who had transferred to Dumaguete from his native Masbate to be with his wife and newborn baby, said the leadership training further inspired him to “gather underprivileged children and use football to empower the children and bring joy to their lives.”

“I promoted football in this place (Guihulngan), knowing that there is really no support, and they laughed at my efforts,” said Lim.

His passion for football goes as far back as 2007, when he coached kids in well-off schools like the Colegio San Agustin (CSA) Makati, Xavier School in San Juan, and Hedcen (Holistic Education and Development Center) in Taytay, Rizal.

His experience in Guihulngan taught him to improvise and adapt the teaching of football to more rustic, less privileged conditions.

“In the beginning, I started playing with children in the park, coaching two kids clad in football jerseys. Soon, they invited their friends, about seven to eight kids. There were a lot of kids from Barrio Bucana who watched and asked me if there was a fee to playing. I told them there was none,” Lim said.

He coaxed children to go into training by preparing for them, right after a game, free snacks of congee with chicken feet (pospas) and fish balls, which he called “tempura.”

“Soon, the parents saw what I was doing and brought their own kids to join,” Lim said.

There is no standard football field in Barrio Bucana.  Lim improvised by using a small, 10-meter x 15-meter beach space facing the Tañon Gulf. The space is good for “small-sided plays” or games played with 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 4, or 5 vs. 5 player pairings.


There is no standard football field in Barrio Bucana.  Lim improvised by using a small, 10 meter x 15 meter beach space facing the Tañon Gulf. The space is good for “small-sided plays” or games played with 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 4, or 5 vs. 5 player pairings.

Basically, Lim put two goals on each end of the space and allowed the kids to play. Goals were improvised, made of scrap material from junk shops and the kids devised bamboo equipment for shooting drills.

Coach Peter Lim poses with the players of the Carabell Football Club composed of children from Guihulngan, Negros Oriental. Taken last March 7, before the quarantines relating to the COVID pandemic were enforced, the team travelled to Canlaon City, Negros Oriental to compete in the 1st Mayor Chubasco Football Cup, where the girl's team won 1st runner up

“This kind of training encourages each player to be more alert, agile and aggressive, since the action is non-stop and very dependent on the input of each player, as against a full game that has nine or 10 players on each side,” Lim explained.

Starting with three balls and three kids, Lim saw his football team grow as the children themselves, aged eight to 14, recruited their schoolmates and friends to join.

Lim said he now has players as young as five years old. “From three kids, there are now 27 registered children and another 30 unregistered kids pending registration from the wider communities, for a total of 57 kids, and still growing.”

He added that other barangays have likewise received football training. These include: Barangay Tinayunan and Barangay McKinley, also in Guihulngan, as well as two barangays in Masbate province—Barangay Dumurog in Esperanza town and Barangay Jabuyoan in Aroroy town.

During ECQ, Lim said the kids were not allowed to go out of their homes.

“All of them are poor, they are like squatters and are naturally afraid of catching COVID-19 and the possible lockdown of their barang