Building a bridge to Guatemala

Building a bridge to Guatemala

From left are Jim Anderson, Gabrielle Fernandes, Catehrine Reyes and Henry Fernandes. (Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)
NSHS senior Fernandes hopes to install a soccer field for others with a passion for the sport

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Since she was 4 years old, Gabrielle Fernandes has loved soccer.

So when it was time to choose a senior project, a requirement for her impending graduation from North Smithfield High School, Fernandes, now 17, knew it would somehow revolve around the sport.

What Fernandes didn’t know was how large the project would grow, or that she would dedicate countless hours and come to depend on the help of many friends and volunteers to accomplish a meaningful and much-needed goal.

The high school senior has organized a co-ed charity soccer tournament with the aim of raising enough money not only to build a soccer field in the Highlands area of Guatemala, where none currently exist, but also providing needed improvements and supplies for a school in the region.

The event, scheduled for Saturday, April 9 aims to bring together local sports enthusiasts of all ages to raise money and collect supplies for the cause.

“I chose to use the sport of soccer as a means to help less fortunate children that have the same passion for the game,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes is working with mentor Catherine Reyes on the project, using Reyes’ contacts with organizations in Guatemala to meet some basic needs of the local children.

Reyes’ husband is from Guatemala and her efforts to help began after her first visit to the country.

“I started doing some fundraising after I went down and saw the level of poverty,” Reyes said. “I saw what a little money can do there. We bought houses with $3,000.”

In the years since, Reyes, also a North Smithfield resident, has raised more than $85,000 to help less fortunate families, mostly through athletic competitions known as the “Reviver Challenge.”

“We’re trying to build bridges,” Reyes said. “We’re crossing over from our side to provide aid, but we’re getting things we need like passion for life, meaning, family and faith. It’s about leaving our world of comforts and getting involved in something deeper.”

Reyes has led missionary community service trips to Guatemala for the last five years and last summer, brought along 33 volunteers.

In Guatemala, Fernandes and Reyes are working through an established non-profit organization called Mayan Families. The organization offers a variety of aid programs to support and empower the community through education, community development, basic needs, and emergency aid.

“They meet basic needs,” said Reyes. “Through the soccer tournament, we are trying to meet wants. The kids all want to play soccer.”

The sport, Reyes says, is popular with youth in the country but muddy, uneven terrain in the area make it hard to play.

“There’s puddles everywhere,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”

A new combination soccer field/basketball court built on asphalt right next to a local school will cost just $1,000. Any additional funding Fernandes is able to raise will be used to make improvements to the school and purchase things like books, computer labs and $110 water filters to provide residents with clean water for up to 10 years.

“In a broad sense my senior project involves using the game of soccer as a means of bridging together two very different soccer communities in different parts of the world that both have the same passion for the game,” Fernandes explained. “I have learned about the undesirable living conditions and poverty that these children in the Highlands area of Guatemala live with. They are people just like you and I, wanting to live out their dreams and play the game they love, but due to challenges and limitations posed by intense poverty, this is not a reality for them. It is my vision to help these people in any way I can.”

Fernandes began planning for the charity tournament and working with Reyes in September. Now, she said, “It’s every day. There’s constant things that need to get done.”

Senior projects at NSHS require 15 hours of field work.

“I did 15 hours the first month,” the student said laughing. She’s also recruited numerous friends and family members to help pull it off.

Wide World of Sports General Manager Jim Anderson has donated four fields to the cause for the day of the event, a tournament with multiple age divisions, where winners emerge from sets of 25-minute games.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Anderson said.

Teams are signing up now and must be co-ed with a minimum of four girls and a maximum of 12 players. Four different divisions will accommodate children under the ages of 10, 12, 14, 16 or 19 and adults. Registration costs $250 per team and closes April 1. Signups are at www.runrhody.com/race.php?eventId=450.

“We’re hoping to have some good participation from the North Smithfield sports community,” said Gabrielle’s father, Henry Fernandes.

Corporate sponsors for the event include Soccer RI, Stanley Tree Service, DMK Sports and Sport Systems Custom Bag Corporation.

Non-participants are also welcome to stop by the sports facility at 621 Pound Hill Road. Artisan items from Guatemala will be for sale, the snack bar will be open and raffles will be held.

The group will also be collecting old soccer equipment including cleats, shin-guards, balls shirts jerseys and sneakers.

Checks can be made out to Reviver and sent to Gabrielle Fernandes at 29 Georgiana Ave., North Smithfield 02896. Questions can be directed to Fernandes at gfernandes424@gmail.com.