Photo: Brenda (3rd from Left) discussing with fellow Youth Leaders at the Global Youth Summit in Manchester, England

In June, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the Global Youth Summit in Manchester, England, a week long program hosted by the City Football Group’s Cityzens Giving and City in the Community programs.  Held at the Manchester City FC Academy, the summit convened individuals from six different countries.  Here we discussed the problems being faced in our countries and our communities.

One of the many things I learned was to speak your mind even if you’re standing alone because it’s amazing how other people will stand and follow after you take the first step. It is very hard to be a leader and one of the many challenges is adapting to the environment you are in.  This was a new experience for me.  As an 18 year old who has lived all her life in the Bronx, I did not even have a passport.  In fact, it was not until the afternoon before my flight was supposed to leave that my passport arrive and I finally knew I could go.

At the summit, I  talked about the general challenges this community faces and specifically about how we are trying to fight against obesity by using soccer to motivate young kids.  Changing the habits of the future generation is the beginning of change since they are the ones who can create a better future.  The children will also convince their parents into eating healthy now.  Hopefully, I can help lead these children and other South Bronx United participants in making healthier choices on a daily basis.

The programs in all the different countries, states, regions, religions, and genders were fighting for similar goals.  A program in South Africa used soccer to show children how HIV is easily spread was through a cone demonstration. Four teams had to dribble around cones trying not to touch it or else they would “contract” HIV and have to do 10 push ups. The activity also showed that if trouble affects one person in the community it affects everyone living there.  We are using similar activities to teach health and nutrition here in the Bronx.

Something I learned from the Colombian team was that if a community is united and stands strong it can overcome anything that tries to hurt them, as well as how to use words instead of violence. Because younger kids see the actions that we take in a situation and use it as an example to do the same in their situation. Violence should not be the first thing to pops in our minds when faced with a situation we are not comfortable with nor is it to gain success or winning a match.  They didn’t only use soccer (or as they call it Futbol) to send a message out to the young ones.  They used music, art, and other modes as well. There are so many talents, all we have to do is bring it out of the kids and make them feel confident in themselves.  People from Manchester even showed us how they used music to get the children involved and help them forget about the difficulties going on in their lives.  In the end, the overall message was that people shouldn’t face their troubles alone because we are a community and we will need each other in the end.

Brenda and fellow SBU Youth Leader, Jeffrey Cordova, posing with Manchester City FC star Yaya Toure

Through the trainings, there were some coaching tips I learned that will stick with me forever, such as different ways to give a round of applause and do warm ups with songs.  My favorite part of the week was working together to make a festival happen for kids of the community.  It isn’t about making us look good or making a club look good but it’s about the kids. We did the festival for them so that they could have fun and also learn about problems going on around the world. What does it mean to me to be involved in changing lives in my community? It means that I’m not just a friend, a boss, a sister or a mother; it means I’m a leader and what I do affects all the ones around me. It means that I’m not just thinking about myself but others surrounding me.

SBU Youth Leaders with other participants in the Global Youth Summit in Manchester

I am looking forward to seeing change in my community because our project in South Bronx United can make a huge impact on everyone. Obesity is a big problem in New York and changing the eating habits in the children changes the habits of the parents and families, then hopefully the community.  Change starts with one person and travels around. We just have to start somewhere.

You can learn more about this year’s Cityzen’s Giving Global Youth Summit on YouTube.  South Bronx United’s participation in the Cityzen’s Giving program and the Global Youth Summit is thanks to New York City FC and the City Football Foundation.

Brenda Casimiro, 18, plays with the SBU Rising Stars.  She is about to graduate from the Marble Hill School for International Studies, a public school in the Northwest Bronx and plans to begin college at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.