Monday, December 9, 2013

Former Harvard soccer captain makes social impact in Brazil

By: Kevin Noonan
Produced & Edited by: Danny Medlock
With the FIFA World Cup just months away, all eyes of soccer fans across the globe will be focused on the nation of Brazil. The nation’s vibrant soccer culture is identifiable to any person who has knowledge of The Beautiful Game, a culture that extends far past the one-month tournament.
Tim Linden, a U.S. citizen and a former co-captain of the University of
Tim Linden. (Photo via
Harvard’s soccer team, is combining his own passion for the sport with the passion of Brazilians to make a social impact with underprivileged children in the Sao Paulo area.
Linden’s interest in Brazil began after a study abroad trip he took following his freshman year. Each subsequent summer, Linden returned to Brazil, and taught English to a public school in in São Paulo where he learned of the inequalities and issues surrounding the public school infrastructure.
“I learned quite a bit about working with people who have far different perspectives,” Linden said. “While the on the field part was not what I would’ve hoped for my personal success, it continued to be a very positive factor in my life, so it is something that is really the main reason I am where I am now. “
Coaches Across Continents
Linden combines his passions for Brazil, teaching and soccer through his job at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
Linden’s connection to Harvard also gave him an interest in working for non-governmental organization, Coaches Across Continents.
“When I went to Brazil after my freshman year, a teammate of mine went to Africa and worked with Coaches Across Continents in Africa,” Linden said. “He came back and said amazing things about it, so I had been interested in the program since my time at Harvard.”
Created in Africa in 2008 by Harvard alum Nick Gates, Coaches Across Continents aims to use the game of soccer to bring applicable social change to the country in which the program was held. Earlier this year, the program expanded to South America when Colombia hosted a camp.
After volunteering at that event, Linden and Gates began the process of determining how a camp would run in Brazil.
“We started talking from there what we could do with Brazil in the short term and also talked about what we could do in Brazil for a longer term, thinking about World Cup and Olympics type things as well.”
In July, the hope became a reality as Coaches Across Continents partnered with Brazilian NGO, ACER, which aims to support at risk children in the city of Diadema. Jonathan Hannay, the Secretary General of ACER, was thrilled with the implementation of the camp in the area.
“Historically, we have a lot of capacity of working with different groups within the community, but no experience of using sport as a vehicle for social impact,” Hannay said. “Having Coaches Across Continents come was a very interesting experience for us because they came with a methodology and an idea of how to use sport for social change”
Hannay views organizations such as ACER and Coaches Across Continents as critical parts of supplementing a child’s education.
“It is crucial, the education infrastructure in Brazil is pathetic,” Hannay said. “Most state schools are at best, have a football court and that is the only extra space except for classrooms. They put children through shift systems so there are either three or four shifts of children in a given school per day, so there is no time in a school day to have anything except classes.”
A Sao Paulo slum. (Stock photo)
Milton Lima, a native of Sao Paulo, believes that soccer is an excellent way to teach his children some of the most basic lessons of life.  The children learn aspects of honesty, teamwork and conflict resolution through the game.
“I think sports are a great way to pass down some of your important lessons of life,” Lima said. “For example, in life there are always ups and downs, so through sports, I am able to teach my kids that you never win all the time in your life. So sports are a very good way of teaching how to behave yourself in society.”
Soccer's cultural impact 
In Linden’s opinion, soccer has a way to transcend cultural barriers and allows people from different parts of the world to have positive interactions with one another. Linden himself is an excellent example, teaching children in a foreign country by using the game he loves.
"All around the world, soccer is an international culture and language, so it just has the potential for impact that no other sport has,” Linden said. “When you think about soccer from a non-competitive game-winning perspective, that takes kids into a sort of environment where they are not expected to be explicitly learning. It is an environment where they feel like they are the protagonists in the game.”
As his main project, Linden works on an early childhood development initiative, which involves Harvard, Sao Paulo University and Insper. Although there are bureaucratic struggles for the American living in a foreign country, Linden notes that he has amassed moments of pride in his short time working in Sao Paulo.
“The proudest moments are when you get recognition from the people that you are working with,” Linden said. “Recently, the city of Sao Paulo announced its early childhood development policy program and the leader of that program took part in our course. I set up specific seminars with different Harvard professors for her to learn more about early childhood development, so to be able to be involved with something like that that then will be implemented in a city of 20 million people pass through Sao Paulo each week, that is something that is pretty special.”

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