Making a difference in Colombia

The final day of the Chelsea Foundation and Plan International visit to Colombia was the busiest yet as Claire Rafferty visited the area of Nelson Mandela, just outside the city of Cartagena.

Nelson Mandela is a community of Cartagena that sprung up in the mid-90s at the height of armed conflict. The community are all families who were fleeing the ongoing war in Colombia. It is a settlement where running water and electricity were only connected four years ago.

The day began with a Champions of Change press conference. Rafferty was joined by Simon Taylor, head of the Chelsea Foundation, Plan country director Gabriella Bucher and participants Yuliana and Juan for questions from the youngsters who have been trained as community reporters as part of the programme as well as members of the local press.

The wide-ranging questions from the young reporters included the importance of Chelsea’s involvement with Plan and Colombia, what we can learn from the success of women’s football in England and what Rafferty would take away from her visit.

At the conclusion of the conference, Plan International in Colombia were presented with a shirt signed by our Premier League-title winning squad as a thank you for hosting the visit.

Attention then turned to football with Rafferty and local star, Real Cartegna’s Juliana Toro, joining the participants for a tournament organised and run by the Foundation coaches.

All players in attendance received a Chelsea shirt and medal for taking part.

Champions of Change participant Yuliana said: ‘Participating in Champions of Change has transformed my life. Before this I didn’t truly understand what gender meant and now I do.

‘I understand men and women have equal rights and taking part has allowed me to learn a lot I can implement in my daily life.’

Juan, who joined Yuliana for the morning’s press conference, added: ‘My experience has been great as it has shown me men and women are the same. We all have the same rights and should not be treated differently.’

Chelsea has been working together with our global charity partner, Plan International, to transform the lives of children across the world through the reach and power of football. Our approach is proven to transform lives: girls stay in school longer and marry later, while boys learn to be respectful of their female peers.     

At the conclusion of the session Plan’s Gabriella Bucher spoke of the importance of the project and partnership. She said: ‘We want there to be equal rights for girls and boys and football allows us to do that. The methodology of the programme is helping to change the beliefs and values of the communities we work in.

‘Having Chelsea and in particular Claire here shows that women can achieve their goals as she has achieved so much for club and country. The children have loved having her here to learn from and listen to.’

To date the Champions of Change project has reached 1,000 youngsters in five of the most deprived settlements in Colombia.

During the afternoon at Nelson Mandela, a further 30 of those on the programme benefitted directly from the trip as the Foundation coaches split the group up and staged two separate coaching sessions.

Rafferty again was at the thick of the action and upon departing the settlement and after handing out further Chelsea kit to the participants, said: ‘It has been an incredible experience and one I will remember for a long time.

‘Meeting the boys and girls and playing football with them, having fun and learning from each other was very emotional for me.

‘The work being done by Plan and Chelsea really is making a difference. The long-term aim is to change beliefs towards equality and based on what I’ve experienced, it is working.

‘There is a long way to go but this work is making a difference for these girls and boys and hopefully generations to come will benefit.’