From growing up in a Rio favela to becoming a football coach

Jessica grew up with a foster family in Rio. She won the 2014 Street Child World Cup with Brazil and now wants to help other girls achieve their dreams.

Jessica street child brazil
Jessica coaches football on Saturday mornings in Rio [Luana Ferreira/Al Jazeera]

Jessica was part of Brazil’s Street Child World Cup winning squad in 2018.

She grew up in a Rio favela with a foster family and said she was forced to like football before falling in love with the game.

Here, she talks about life in a community and how football has changed her life:

I’ve been living at Complexo da Penha in Rio since I was born. I’ve lived with a foster family since I was six months old but my biological mother and sisters live nearby and we get along.

The family has been friends with my mother for a long time – way before I was born. My foster family is also raising Jamylle, my youngest sister since she was two.

As we live in a community, people often look down on us and think about the bad things that happen there. There are also good things happening there.

We don’t have access to many opportunities, and we have to deal with a lot of prejudice towards Black people and those living in a community. It is not easy for anyone, but if we don’t focus, we won’t achieve anything.

The violence rate in Penha is high, but it never affected me directly. I missed classes many times because there was a police operation in the community. It’s quite challenging to be a child in Penha now if you don’t have parents that give you a good foundation, education and follow every step you take.

It is easy to get lost, as many children end up in crime. When I was a child, it was not allowed to have children as part of gangs but now it happens. There was more respect when I was a child. Now it is gone.

Enjoying football

There were mostly boys in the area I grew up and they played football on the streets. I was kind of forced to like it but after a while, I started to really enjoy it.

I remember one day I was playing on the football pitch and I saw a girls’ football project. They invited me to join them after they saw me play. That’s how I joined the Street Child United project in 2014.

Football has changed everything in my life. I became more responsible, the sport gave me a different perspective about respecting others, and I learned how to work as a team.

Before, I didn’t know how important it was to have the opinion and support of others. For example, a while ago, one of the girls had to get a passport made. Her family could not help her with it. She asked me if I could go with her and we did it together.

Football also helped me meet other people, travel outside of Brazil, experience different cultures and learn new things. I’m super happy at the path football has taken me on because having the chance to represent my country was a dream.

Almost every girl who aims to become a professional footballer wants those things. It was a huge opportunity because it sends a positive message to our family and the Penha community.

Those things will inspire other children.

The travels also gave me more visibility and some people who didn’t believe in me started to see me differently. I didn’t believe in myself either, but then I became more confident.

I now want to help people through sports, so I want to study physical education. I want to help people the same way others helped me: by opening doors, motivating them to go to university, study, respect people and also have empathy.

The project gave me all that, and I want the girls arriving at the project now to see what they can achieve. I want to help to keep those girls get away from crime.

Now, I work as a coach on the project every Saturday morning. During the week, I work in a tools factory. And I also have English classes three times a week.

In the future, I see myself graduating, working on the project and helping students. I want to help them as much as I can with school and education.

I want people to know that we can achieve our dreams. We just need to have faith and willpower.

As told to Luana Ferreira

Source: Al Jazeera