ECUADOR: Salesian missionary is using sports education to help youth on and off the field
(MissionNewswire) Salesian Father Agustinus Togo was once on the path to become a professional soccer player but chose instead to become a priest. Today, he’s using all of the skills he learned playing the popular team sport to teach and connect with indigenous Achuar youth who live in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
In the 1970s, some Achuar representatives visited local Salesian missionaries, Father Domingo Bottasso and the late Father Luis Bolla, to request they develop programs to help educate youth in the Achuar communities. Since then, Salesian missionaries have been sustaining the work of the early mission while also expanding programs and activities that emphasize communal development, including sports education.
“Football (soccer) moves many people,” says Fr. Togo. “During the World Cup everyone interrupts their activities to watch the games. The same happens with the Achuar. When there are matches or championships, young people don’t care if they have to walk a week or two, they go to play. I see a great deal of concern among young people to be footballers, to learn to play better and I asked myself why not try another way of evangelizing through football. I believe that evangelization is not only that of the priest who arrives, officiates Mass, confesses. We must go out, look for other ways of being missionaries, as Pope Francis says.”
Father Togo’s dream is to open a soccer school in an Achuar village. In February, he went to Ambato to attend a three-day congress on soccer and the sciences. His goal is to start the school in the Wasakentsa community and then train in other communities.
“Achuar youth face challenges from the outside such as drugs and the misuse of technology,” adds Fr. Togo. “Sometimes young people get involved in these things. The objective is to use sport to attract their attention, gradually distance them from these vices and give them the opportunity to be animators and educators of other young people.”
Ecuador is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, according to UNICEF. The richest 20 percent of the population receives almost 50 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent receives only 5 percent. According to the World Food Program, almost 26 percent of all children under age 5 have stunted growth, increasing to 31 percent in rural areas and 47 percent in indigenous communities.
Close to 20 percent of Ecuador’s population is people of indigenous heritage. For poor, rural and indigenous youth, education provides the best opportunity for finding employment, reducing inequities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Salesian missionaries have been providing education and other social programs for disadvantaged youth across Ecuador for more than 125 years.
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UNICEF – Ecuador
Salesian Missions – Ecuador