Changemaker Stories: Mauricio Cordova
The changemaker series are a set of interviews that look to move the spotlight from the usual “project impact and outcomes” of our regular work. This is an opportunity to illustrate the humans behind the projects – those who choose to go above and beyond. We hope it will inspire others to do the same and serve as testimony that however big or small your dream, it is possible to bring positive social change to your community. These are the everyday heroes in the Dream Building Fund Programme.
This week, we travel to Ecuador, home of Dream Building Fund project leader Mauricio Cordova. Passionate about table tennis from an early age, Mauricio shares with us that he felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn to play when he was young to a relatively high level. From there, he worked to become a ITTF level II coach and his dream has always been to combine his work with the more vulnerable with his table tennis knowledge and give back through a sport that gave him a lot.
Indeed, Mauricio works for FUDELA (Fundación de las Americas), an Ecuadorean non‑governmental organisation devoted to transforming the lives of children and young people facing vulnerable situations in the country, through the power of sport. He applied for the first edition of the Dream Building Fund in 2019 through his organisation. Mauricio is now, amongst other things, responsible for the project “Points that tear down barriers”.
A dream become reality – Mauricio tells us, why it was important for him to present his project to the Dream Building Fund
The current situation – the problem:
“One of the issues we face is the lack of secure, safe spaces in communities. The situation here, in Ecuador, much like in many developing countries, is critical in terms of the risks that are surrounding young people. Dysfunctional families (children are cared for by other persons who lack emotional attachment), early access to drugs and alcohol consumption, refugees, and migrants – they carry with them tough experiences, trauma, experience of violence. So, it is important for us to work with them on resilience and giving them the opportunity to think of and believe in themselves. This is the real present need.”
His experience and knowledge in the tool:
“I believe in sports’ potential to change lives and it’s the focus of my work: sport for development. I am lucky to be able to combine my passions and learnings from my life and put it at the service of children and youth who need it the most.”
When asked, “why table tennis?” Mauricio explains that football might be the biggest sport and king sport in Ecuador, but different people are attracted to different activities and relate to different experiences. Table Tennis is very accessible, a non-contact sport that does not involve running and requires much concentration and hand-eye coordination. It is generally attractive to different people so using different sport offers more reach. This is important in a time where getting youth off the electronic devices such as phones is a challenge. He goes on to elaborate on his motivation:
“Plus, working with table tennis for me is a very intrinsic motivation. I want to share what I love to do to help people in the community. It is a project that combines all my competencies and experience (player, coach, social worker, and student in sport management). I believe that small actions and activities are important. Showing how to bounce a ball on a racket to a child will have an impact, and I have seen that it can change the life of that young person for the better. These safe spaces where we run activities, where we show a different way of life is very important in these communities. I just want to contribute, and this is the way I know how.”
What he thinks is unique about his project?
“The community we work with is very specific. We focus our work on the northern part of Ecuador, in provinces that are a few kilometres from the border where no other organisations are working. This means there is huge demand and need for our work but also that we are alone. I also feel the human development approach we use is unique. Your coaches have this in mind constantly, they must care about the participants as a human first and they are there to help them grow and show them a different path.
What is more, one of the challenges we face which make the project more unique and innovative is that table tennis is not a popular sport in the rural areas, they do not know it often. We must explain to families how they can use their tables. Every table can become a table tennis table. We are trying to share this idea with them, especially during Covid times. If they have a table at home, we encourage them to play together, we even went around to the communities to give them rackets and balls.”
Mauricio leaves us on some wisdom from his experience targeted at people who want to do something similar, whether it is applying to the Dream Building Fund, running a project for inclusion and safe spaces, or introducing a new sport in their tool box, or simply trying to contribute to their local communities development:
“I have learnt a lot during this time but the first advice I have for others is: to ensure the soul of the project is the person and human and improving the life for them. What we do is complementary to other things in their life and we must care about their life, it’s not just about the activity and it’s not about performance. It’s about well-being.
Do not focus on the challenges or the what-if, look at problems as problems that you will need to find a solution to.
Network with others, share your ideas and go to big players to learn and do not forget to get to know the community and be involved. Include all stakeholders in developing the project so they are all advocates of your project, and that when the children are taking part, the community is behind you.”
We are happy to have a project working in the region and someone as competent as Mauricio taking the lead on this. There is no doubt, Mauricio is a role model for many kids in the community.
Learn more about the project in Northern Ecuador: HERE