I could not believe my ears when the donation announcement was made.
My football team (the soccer players I manage, not play with) stood in a half circle in the dusty track encircling the pitch, where they had just played their heart outs before the cameras of a national TV program. The cameras were still poised on their ecstatic faces, the crowd around me cheered incessantly, and my 3-year-old house sister Aulia wriggled around in my lap, demanding to play with my cell phone, unaware of the importance of the events unfolding.
“…seratus lima-puluh juta rupiah!” the TV host shouted out, handing a cardboard check to team captain Ginan, with the donation amount written across the front: 150 million rupiah, or about $17,000.
For an organization who spends less in an entire year to run their drug rehab facility, the amount is overwhelming.
And like a domino effect of emotions, one by one each of the players, and many supporters – myself included, broke out into tears.
Some readers might remember my call for donations last year when Rumah Cemara was awarded the honor of National Organizer for Team Indonesia to go to the Homeless World Cup (this is also when I was given the honor of serving as their team manager). Rumah Cemara was selected largely due to the success of their soccer program (“Football for Change”), in which they initiate twice-weekly matches with targeted local teams, who usually do not know in advance that team RC is comprised mostly of people living with HIV.
When players reveal their HIV status at the end of the game, they also invite the other team to share their questions over dinner back at the office. Because these young men are a high-risk group – those most likely to have unprotected sex and to experiment with drugs – the program outcomes are three-fold: (1) helping to prevent future cases of HIV, (2) helping to decrease the stigma towards people living with HIV, and (3) increasing the quality of life of people living with HIV.
Although last year we were not able to raise the funds in time to participate in HWC 2010, we were able to use the opportunity to raise awareness in Indonesia about sport for social change. In the past year, Rumah Cemara has gone on to develop their soccer program and become winners of the Ashoka/Nike Changemakers Award (“Changing Lives through Football“) and the Allen Taylor Sports Award, international observers at Australia’s “The Big Issue” football festival, and a registered organization with Global Giving online donation program.
Being back in Bandung now, I am overjoyed to see how much RC’s presence has expanded, beyond the limits of the HIV and drug user communities in which their positive influence already prevailed. Now I can see community members young and old, conservative and liberal, religious and not, all supportive of Rumah Cemara’s efforts. It seems that the campaign we began in 2009 to decrease stigma has permeated the community, and from my observations at least, I can see that supporting HIV/AIDS causes (including protecting yourself) has attained the level of “cool” in Bandung.
I could also not believe my ears when I learned how the national TV show came to know about Rumah Cemara’s efforts. One of our ‘everyday’ supporters, (@febbylorentz) noticed a debate on Twitter about the national football league, and the politics perpetually surrounding it.
He also noticed that the producer of the TV show (@kickandyshow) making a comment about the debate.
He suggested, politely and briefly, through a direct message, that the show consider paying more attention to positive football news than the negativity surrounding corruption in the big leagues. Here was Rumah Cemara, doing everything right, lacking only the funds to make their journey to the HWC – doesn’t this community action deserve some attention?
To everyone’s surprise, the producer responded affirmatively, and thanks to a brief interaction on Twitter, our team is now heading to Paris in one month’s time to represent Indonesia on the international football field.
I’m usually the first to warn that “Twitter is not the answer”, and that members of my technologized generation are already suffering social consequences from the pressure to always be responding and reacting, instead of reflecting.
But this time, I give thanks for the new connections Twitter and other technologies enable us to have. I hope that we always use these tools to bring ideas to life, not keep them contained in virtual space, and always see these tools as an extension to, not replacement of, the universe that already exists around us.