#Brazentina Photo Summary: Part 2, Rosario

A public mural painted by El Desafio staff and volunteers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

A public mural painted by El Desafio staff and volunteers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

For the final five days of our South America trip, the CSPS team visited with Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Luz Amuchastegui (class of 2013) in her hometown of Rosario, Argentina.

Luz and her staff at El Desafío Foundation work to transform their neighborhood, which is home to two of the oldest and most dangerous shantytowns in the city, La Lata and Villa Moreno, through innovate sports and educational workshops that keep kids engaged and on a path toward success.

Here’s a summary of our activities during the five days we spent in Rosario.

Day 1: Field and Classroom Sessions

After recuperating from the overnight flight from Sao Paulo, Luz gathered the team from our hotel and brought us to the El Desafio headquarters, a medium-sized warehouse facility that has been repainted and arranged to host more than 160 kids with multiple programs happening concurrently.

Many of the program participants, volunteers and “young leaders” — program graduates who have been given opportunities to work part-time with the organization, and who also serve as role models for younger participants — were there to welcome us. We spent the day  breaking the ice and building trust with them through some of the classic games in Drs. Hillyer’s and Huffman’s arsenal, and talking about what El Desafio has done for their lives.


A trio of participants and volunteers at El Desafio laugh during an icebeaker called “Mingle, Mingle.” Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“This is my city, and I don’t think it’s fair for people to live the way they do in these shantytowns. We’re here to try and create a different future for the kids from these neighborhoods by working together and giving them the tools to fix their own community.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013

During these sessions, we met a trio of best friends — Andy, Damian and Marco — who have been together at El Desafio for over a year, and who have all taken on roles as soccer coaches, providing mentorship and leadership to another generation of El Desafio participants. We also met Agustina, a 17-year-old who is coaching the Mini Gigantes (“little giants”) soccer team of 12-13 year-olds, becoming one of very few young women coaching boys soccer in the city.


Dr. Hillyer listens as a volunteer shares her drawing during a classroom exercise. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“In Argentina, the economics have been so difficult in the past years, and people have lost a lot of hope. Then, in the middle of all of this, there’s El Desafio, which is this kind of a shining jewel. I’m so impressed by the fact they are absolutely committed to providing these kids the best experience possible, not just any experience.” Joan Coraggio, mentor and group communications director for Saatchi LA

Day 2: Mini-Library and Volunteer Training at Urquiza Park

On Saturday morning, the CSPS team and mentors left for Urquiza Park to provide support for El Desafio staff as they installed their sixth Mini-Library, a major project undertaken to provide communal books and reading space for Rosario’s residents.


Maria de los Angeles and Sofi Cuadra keep the Mini-Library steady. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“I really think the mini-library project has been a success. We have one man who called us after he saw one of our installations near his home. He started to take care of it and makes sure it’s always stocked and that it is looked after.”  Sofi Cuadra, international relations manager for El Desafio

After helping mix cement and ensuring the Mini-Library was solidly in place, Drs. Hillyer and Huffman jumped into the volunteer training, led by El Desafio executive director Mario Raimondi. The exercises, focused on team building and responsible living, concluded with a dance session, where Dr. Huffman taught everyone a personalized dance version of Rocky Top.

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The entire team celebrates a successful day with some dancing. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Ultimately, the more educated young children are, the less likely they are to get into trouble as teens, which then multiples the problems they’ll have in their adult life. They’re not just having an after-school program, they are changing people’s lives. They are making their world better.” John Lisko, mentor and executive communications director for Saatchi LA

Day 4: First Day of After-School Programming

On Monday, El Desafio welcomed back kids for the first day of after-school programming. The CSPS team got to be there to witness the energy and passion of the staff, volunteers and participants during the soccer, dance, field hockey and art classes.

Despite the heat, the kids in the outdoor classes were excited to get to a small, turf field four blocks from the warehouse, where all practices for team sports are held. First up were the Mini Gigantes, then the older boys soccer teams, and finally the girls field hockey players. A former field hockey goalie herself, Luz even jumped in to share some expertise.


Luz Amuchastegui, who was once a promising field hockey goalie, shares her expertise with the girls. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“My life is my passion. What I do for my job is my passion. I am passionate about getting up every morning and being able to change other people’s lives.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013

After the one-hour practices, the players returned to El Desafio with their coaches for a snack and time to hang out before leaving for the day. When the CSPS team arrived back at the warehouse, the dance instructor was just finishing up her class. Drs. Hillyer and Huffman couldn’t resist jumping in to share their own moves with the group.


Drs. Hillyer and Huffman jump in to lead a song during the dance class. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Luz is someone I look to as a role model and an example for women in Rosario. She’s married, but she’s not at home washing dishes and cleaning the house. She’s here with us everyday trying to win back this community.” Georgina, volunteer and field hockey coach

Day 5: Second Day of After-School Programming

Before leaving for Buenos Aires, the CSPS team and mentors spent our final hours in Rosario at El Desafio for its second-day of programming. In order for kids to take multiple classes, the organization spreads its programming out throughout the week so different workshops are available every day.

On this occasion, the team experienced El Desafio’s inaugural skateboarding class, where 10 kids stepped on skateboards for the first time and practiced with instructors Bautista and Andy at a nearby basketball court, long abandoned to disuse and recently reclaimed by the organization. Skateboarding was followed by a music class, with the sound of beating drums and laughter filling El Desafio’s warehouse before snack time.


Luz Amuchastegui and some of the skateboarding class participants. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Luz was just such a positive influence to us within the agency; just a really inspiring individual. It’s unreal that we’ve now had the opportunity to come and see what she has created, to see it live and in person, and actually in action. It’s a phenomenal, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Gwen Conley, mentor and group media director for Saatchi LA

As the afternoon drew to a close, it was time to say our goodbyes to the volunteers, participants and staff at El Desafio — never a painless task when befriending people with such strong commitment and love for doing their part to create new, improved Rosario.

One of the more touching final moments of the trip happened when Agustina, who received a U.S. women’s national soccer team jersey earlier in the week from Dr. Huffman for her role coaching boys soccer, wrote out and shared a short speech about how meaningful the presence of the CSPS team and GSMP mentors was for her.

Agustina began attending El Desafio in early 2014 after Luz spoke at her school. Last year, she signed up for and finished cooking and mentoring classes. And, although she has played soccer since the age of 5, she never considered being a coach until she got the push from Luz and Mario.

At 17 years old, Agustina is committed to securing a bright future for herself, and, at the same time, understands she is a role model for other girls in her community.

At the very core, that is what El Desafio is slowly building: a generation of kids like Agustina, Andy, Damian and Marco who will transform La Lata and Villa Moreno, and bring back hope to many who lost it a long time ago.


Dr. Hillyer hugs Agustina, a participant and soccer coach for one of El Desafio’s boys soccer teams. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Our first practice, I felt really nervous, emotional and happy, too. From the moment Luz and Mario asked me to become a coach, I knew they believed in me. They’ve given me their full support. And I want to pay back their confidence.” Agustina, participant and Mini Gigantes boys soccer coach

An “Unforgettable” Experience for Multi-Nation Basketball Visitors at WBHOF

Basketball players from Lithuania during icebreakers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

Basketball players from Lithuania during icebreakers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

Unforgettable. Informative. Fun.

Three of the many words used by the 2015 Multi-Nation Basketball Sports Visitors to describe their experience at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame during their second day in Knoxville.

The 20 girls, representing Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Georgia as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative, were welcomed at the WBHOF by President Dana Hart and her staff, and taken on an extensive tour of the WBHOF facilities. The group also participated in a panel discussion with two-time U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler, and leadership and Title IX workshops with Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society.

“The most important thing for us as the Hall of Fame is to share the history and story of women’s basketball,” said Hart, who has welcomed 115 women and girls from 23 countries to the WBHOF through this initiative. “Just as these girls may be trailblazers in their countries, taking the sport back and growing it, it’s important for them to see the history of the game in the U.S. and internationally from 1892 to the present.”

After finishing the tour, many of the girls shared their hope to see women’s basketball grow in their countries. During a workshop drawing exercise on the topic of ambition, Tiko Chichinadze of Georgia drew herself winning a WNBA championship, while Lina Putriute of Lithuania depicted herself and teammates celebrating on the court together after hitting a game-winning shot. Many of the other girls also drew themselves wearing medals and hoisting trophies.

However, when asked to name their own female basketball heroes, few were able to name any, even though they spoke knowledgeably about past and present NBA superstars like Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose.

One of the Polish Sports Visitors during the drawing exercise. Photo credits: Jaron Johns

One of the Polish Sports Visitors during the drawing exercise. Photo credits: Jaron Johns

Donatas Slanina, a coach and chaperone for the Lithuanian group, said the reason for this is simple: there is a good chance many of the girls, aged 14-17, have never actually seen a professional women’s basketball game.

“There is no female basketball on television in our countries,” said Slanina, a former Lithuania men’s national team player and Olympian. “They’ll show the men’s leagues and on satellite you can watch NBA and NCAA, but not the WNBA or any other female leagues. That is why it is also hard for our girls to see themselves getting to that level because they don’t physically see it on screen.”

Ziegler, who competed in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics and is training at UT for Rio 2016, reminded the girls that despite these obstacles and others, they have the power to persevere and create real change in their societies through basketball.

“There are no guarantees in sport,” she said. “You must keep pushing forward and face your adversities, find your empowerment and embrace new opportunities.”

U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler with the group. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler with the group. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

After the WBHOF and two days of visits and workshops at UT and other local sites, the girls travel to Tampa, Florida for the 2015 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Hart, who will be with the group again at the tournament, said the best part of the group’s visit for her was watching the girls realize that they were at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“They walked in the door and saw the statue in the center of the rotunda and their eyes lit up. On the tour, they were looking and learning and they got so excited about what the game represents to a lot of different people.”

And, from what the girls had to say afterward, it’s an experience that will last long in their memories.

The entire group with their coaches outside the WBHOF. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

The entire group with their coaches outside the WBHOF. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

#Brazentina Photo Summary: Part 1, Sao Paulo & Brasilia


The skyline from the balcony at Google Brazil headquarters. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

For two weeks in March, Team CSPS traveled to Brazil and Argentina to catch up with Emerging Leaders from the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program.

Spending time with Cassia Damiani (class of 2012), Daniela Castro (2013) and Paula Korsakas (2014) in Sao Paulo, and Luz Amuchastegui (2013) in Rosario, CSPS staff was able to dive into each woman’s unique context and learn about the specific ways they are empowering girls and women in their communities.

Here’s a summary of some of our activity during the trip’s first leg in Sao Paulo and Brasilia.

Day 1: Sport and Social Development in Itaquera

Upon landing in Brazil, the team gathered our luggage and equipment and boarded a bus headed straight to Itaquera, one of the eastern districts of Sao Paulo, to meet with Fran Silva and his group of volunteers, staff, and athletes at the Kaue Sports and Culture Club (AECK).

After a professional career in futsal and mixed martial arts, Fran started the AECK to provide sports and learning opportunities to community members in his low-income, high-crime neighborhood. Shortly after starting this journey, he had the idea to paint a 200m running track on the street adjacent to the club. The track revolutionized the socialization and health of Fran’s community and has become a symbol of hope and empowerment for residents.

This track is now home to one of the largest running events in the area, boasting more than 4,000 participants and spectators. AECK has also produced two national champions, Rafael Santeramo and Tabatha Dias, who still live and train in Itaquera.


On the track outside of the Kaue Sport and Culture Club with founder Fran Silva. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“This club gives our kids a way out of violence, drugs and alcoholism. I want to show there is a better way to live. And, as long as there is strength in our legs and arms I will  continue to fight for this dream.”  Fran Silva, founder of Kaue Sports and Culture Club

After leaving AECK, the team went to a Sesc location nearby, where we met with past and present Estrelas do Futebol (“female soccer stars”) players, many of whom traveled to Knoxville in April 2014 as Sports Visitors, to engage in classroom and field activities.

During these sessions, many of the girls conveyed their passion to continue learning and growing, both personally and academically, after the exchange. They also shared the challenges facing them in their neighborhoods and within their families, from financial issues that could prevent them from staying in school and getting onto college to cultural expectations of their roles as women. Despite these challenges, the girls committed themselves to the pursuit of a better life.


The Estrelas do Futebol sing and dance after our field session. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“I feel like this is when we have to put into action what we learned in Knoxville. This is the time when every decision we make matters for the future. The challenges will never go away. We may trip up, but we have to get up and keep running.”  Paula Bellisario, Estrela and 2014 Sports Visitor

Day 4: Women Reclaim the Park on International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Paula Korsakas, a former basketball coach and current sports manager at the University of Sao Paulo, organized a pick-up basketball event intended to reclaim space for female players who are otherwise bullied off the city’s public courts.

Team CSPS spent three hours playing basketball and discussing gender equality issues with the very diverse and strong group of athletic women, some of whom shared they hadn’t played pick-up basketball in years due to concerns they’d be sidelined by male players.


Dr. Huffman hits a free throw during the pick-up basketball scrimmage at Ibirapuera Park. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“For me, every Sunday is about basketball. Today, as women, we’ve claimed our place on these courts so that other women who walk by and see us can play, too.” Priscila Lourenco, basketball player and coach

“We brought the noise and wanted to shout out we are here and this is our space, too. We want this group of women to grow and be in other parks, in other cities and all over our country.” Paula Korsakas, GSMP 2014

Day 5: “Women for Sport for Women” Historic Meeting

On Day Five, the team traveled to the capital city of Brasilia for a landmark meeting between the Ministry of Sport and REMS, the Sport and Social Change Network in Brazil. The meeting marked the first time in the country’s history that government and civil society came together to discuss women’s sports.

Cassia, director of strategic planning within the Ministry of Sport, spoke at length, and was guaranteed by Minister of Sport George Hilton that her Title IX legislative proposal will receive his support and be passed onto the National Congress in July. If enacted, this means equal equal federal funding for women’s sports programs, marking nationwide transformation in the operationalization of sport in sports-crazed Brazil, and equal access and opportunity for both sexes.

Cassia at Government Meeting

Cassia Damiani speaking at the Ministry of Sport meeting. Photo credit: Derek Watson

“Title IX has caused changes in the U.S. concerning women’s careers and sports. So this is a very fertile moment. I’m excited, I’m thrilled, I can’t deny it. You already know me, you know how sentimental I am, even though I’m a fortress when it comes to fighting for my rights, for women’s rights and for the rights of the poor.” Cassia Damiani, GSMP 2012

Day 6: Corporate Women Unite to Discuss Professional Mentorship

On Day 6, Daniela Castro, executive director of Athletes for Brazil, mobilized more than 40 businesswomen to attend a two-hour seminar on the importance of professional development and mentoring. The meeting was held at the Google Brazil headquarters in downtown Sao Paulo, as part of the Mulheres do Brasil (“women of Brazil”) network. The women at the meeting represented a variety of industries and influential companies, including Google, P&G, Audi, Nike, MasterCard and Ted Talks.

The workshop included presentations from CSPS directors Hillyer and Huffman, GSMP Alum Daniela Castro, and all four GSMP mentors who traveled to South America — Julie Eddleman of Google, and John Lisko, Joan Coraggio and Gwen Conley of Saatchi LA.


Dr. Hillyer explains the way the CSPS partners with the State Dept., espnW and mentors for the GSMP. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“We have to learn how to participate in and change society together. This is only my third meeting with this group, but I believe it is a great start for our network in reaching our goals.” Daniela Castro, GSMP 2013

Day 7: Embrace the Challenge – Critical Discussion with Athletes & Social Educators

On the morning of Day 7, Paula organized a workshop with private and public educators in the city to discuss the ways sport can be used to empower women and promote youth development. During the session, participants identified the most pressing issues facing youth in their community, including psychological and structural violence against women and girls, and socioeconomic inequality, resulting in high rates of drug use. Participants brainstormed the ways sport can be used to address these issues and created a list of best practices when working with underserved populations.


Paula Korsakas and fellow teachers during icebreakers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“We believe sports can be used as a tool to help change many of these problems and I’m happy so many people could be here today to move forward in this together.” Paula Korsakas, GSMP 2014

In the afternoon, Team CSPS, in coordination with the Saatchi LA mentors, led discussions with some of Brazil’s best and brightest athletes. Organized by EWGTS alumna, Renata Lopes, quality of life director at SESI, the session included a discussion on the importance of women’s sports, and how female athletes can market their achievements to promote their sports and also social change. Those in attendance included current and future Paralympians and Olympians — “Magic” Paula Silva (basketball), Aline Silva (wrestling), Veronica Hipolito (track & field), Soraia Alvarenga (table tennis), Vanessa Pereira (futsal) and Evelyn Oliveira (bocce).


Veronica Hipolito, Cassia Damiani and “Magic” Paula Silva laugh during the Athlete Workshop. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Many of the women I’ve worked with haven’t become athletes. They’ve become dentists and lawyers, but sports was an important part of their lives. I believe that sports should be available to everyone.” Paula Silva, second-highest scorer in Brazil women’s basketball history

“This cannot be a war against men. Women cannot be at the back and they cannot be at the front. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder to make sports available for everyone.” Cassia Damiani, GSMP 2012

Day 8: Women of the World Unite Finding Inspiration in Action

The Closing Summit marked a welcomed reunion and opportunity to convene with all of the women who had participated in the week’s events. The audience was a reflection of the energy, passion and commitment of the three Brazilian Emerging Leaders, who work so hard to reclaim parks, create corporate mentorship opportunities and pass landmark Title IX legislation. Representing the three key sectors of society, from federal government to business to education, Cassia, Daniela, and Paula are the ultimate dream team.

What became evident on our visit to Brazil is that these women are radically changing the way other women experience life; not just on the court or on the field, but in the classroom, in the boardroom and in the mirror. These women have mobilized incredible networks of women who are hungry for new opportunities to learn, grow and lead. We look forward to the way these empowered women will use sport to change the future of Brazil for the next generation.

The team would also like to give special thanks goes to Julie Eddleman, for her thought-provoking presentation on personal branding, and to U.S. General Consul Dennis Hankins for his inspiring remarks. And lastly, a heartfelt thanks to the Museu de Futebol for hosting this incredible event!


Dr. Hillyer leads the final panel at the Closing Summit. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“In this world, you’ve gotta make you’re own action, so whatever that is, do it.” – Dr. Huffman, CSPS assistant director


Julie Eddleman and her three GSMP mentees: Cassia Damiani, Daniela Castro and Paula Korsakas. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“This has been absolutely amazing. Aside from raising my five children, mentoring these women has been the most important thing I’ve done in my 44 years.” Julie Eddleman, mentor and global client partner for Google


The three Emerging Leaders together after the REMS meeting

“I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my action plan without a person like Cassia in a high  government position and for Daniela to mobilize the business leaders.” Paula Korsakas, GSMP 2014

In Part 2, we’ll look at some photos and special moments from the second leg of the #Brazentina trip in Rosario!

A Return to Blogging: What’s Been Up with the CSPS?

soccer players celebrate together

Brazil Soccer Sports Visitors with CSPS staff and volunteers at the Knox Kicks World Cup fundraiser at Regal Soccer Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

The past two years have been a whirlwind for all of us at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. But, after a long absence from this blog we’re looking to get back in action!

Since our last post in February 2012, we’ve welcomed two more classes of the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) and nine different groups of Sports Visitors from Mongolian sitting volleyballers to Jordan’s U-17 women’s national soccer team. We’ve continued to partner with the amazing people at the U.S. Department of State and espnW to carry out the Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative (check the website: globalsportswomen.org). And, we continue to provide UT students opportunities to connect with diverse populations right here in Knoxville, Tennessee.

We’ve done our best to keep all of our followers updated through our different social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Flickr. And, we’ve recently created an instagram (@sportandpeaceUT) to share the amazing photos taken by our staff, highlighting incredible athletes, coaches, students, and sports professionals from around the world.

Drs. Hillyer and Huffman with Yasmin Helal, founder of Educate-Me Egypt and member of the GSMP class of 2014

Drs. Hillyer and Huffman with Yasmin Helal, founder of Educate-Me Egypt and member of the GSMP class of 2014

So flash forward, Jan. 2015, where are we now? Some members from Team CSPS are in Washington, D.C. leading a Sports Visitors program with the national female taekwondo team from Tajikistan. The others are working hard to launch a new web presence and preparing for an exciting semester teaching the Service-Learning: Sport and Community Development course.

In the coming months, we’ll host even more Sports Visitors from around the world, continue to establish and expand our Knoxville presence through service-learning and volunteer projects, and by September, we will welcome the amazing women that will make up the GSMP class of 2015.

Trust us, we’ll be as busy as ever working hard to support and encourage underserved communities, promote women’s empowerment, foster diplomacy between nations, and encourage development and peace both here and abroad.

So please join us on this exciting journey. Let us know you are with us by sharing, commenting, posting, and tweeting to any of the social media channels above. And look for live updates here on the blog. We look forward to an amazing year of sport, development, and peace!