William's reflections on his adolescence are tinged with an almost overwhelming sense of what might have been. Born and raised in Cantagalo, his talents once caught the eye of some of Brazil's most famous football clubs, such as Fluminense and Grêmio. This potential was to suffer, however, from a severe lack of guidance.
”My parents fought a lot. I didn’t have anyone by my side to show me the right way. I made the wrong decisions.”
Faced with this vacuum of support, in a story unfortunately all too familiar among Rio's impoverished youth, William fell into the drug trade. Although we do not dwell on too many details, William swiftly paints a picture of a life in which he felt trapped and imprisoned. A youthful promise soon gave way to the violence of trafficking and the frequent loss of life – “a brother, a cousin, so many friends” – that comes with it.
Counting himself lucky to eventually get out, William relates how an everyday scene in the streets of the community became a transformative moment for him. Returning to Cantagalo after living for several years in Tabajara – a nearby favela where William's wife, with whom he has two sons, is from – William says that he “saw some children playing, you know, like this [making a gun shape with his hand], and I thought: things can't be like this. I don't want this.”
Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, William sought to find a way to take the children's focus away from guns. So began his football school, launched at public gatherings in the community for Children's Day, which falls on 12th October in Brazil, in 2017. Already serving 105 children at the time of writing, William has quickly become the figure he now recognizes he lacked: a role model, a guide.
Meeting with William has been an honor for WINGS and supporting him is something we are beyond proud to do. It’s not really explainable, but just listening to him speak and interact with the children is an experience like nothing else. Perhaps it's the unspoken authority that comes with a voice that has been through the life he has, infused with a determination that no one else should have to.
Everyone is welcome to his football school and though the majority of the kids that have football lessons with him come from Cantagalo, word is getting out to the adjacent community of Pavão-Pavãozinho, and even a few street children have begun to join. William also organizes games and tournaments with teams from other communities. As well as being fun for the children, this development of relations between communities, in a city where neighboring favelas can be in the hands of rival drug gangs, is invaluable.
Unfortunately, William's desire to not leave anyone behind, to take the children's focus away from guns, endured a tragic blow earlier this year. Visibly affected, William relates how one Saturday, a few months back, a 10 year-old boy in the community lost his life when an adolescent's gun accidentally went off. “He could have been training with me. I invited everyone.”
Setbacks have come not only from the destructive consequences of the prevalence of guns but that other crippling mainstay of Brazilian life: corruption. One association wanted to charge the children to get the pitch refurbished and with a gesture towards his shorts, William makes it abundantly clear where he believes that money would have ended up: their pockets.
But in this story, there is hope and potential. One student has gone on to train with Botafogo, another with Flamengo, two of Rio's top football sides. One child could barely kick a ball when he joined but now, William laughs, he can control the ball on his chest and volley at goal. Another has never missed a single session: “I gave him some shin pads. He deserved it.”
William takes solace in the fact that he is now on the the right path. The past and its scars will, of course, never fully stop bearing down upon him.
“Sometimes I'm just sitting there in bed and suddenly all these things come rushing back from when I was young. And I think about what I could have done differently with my life. All that potential. . . .”
“Maybe there's a positive side to that as well. It is the weight of those memories, as well as the children, that gives you the motivation to carry on, that means you will never stop.”
“Yes, you're right,” he says, his face breaking out into a relieved smile, his voice filling again with resolve:
“Sou Vencedor.” I'm a winner.
On behalf of WINGS, we deeply thank Danielle, Nikola, EduMais and Diana who has led us to William.
The interview above has been summarized and slightly edited but originally conducted by a volunteer at EduMais.
All our efforts in Brazil has gone through William where we provided 7 footballs for his team, a football net, 50 water bottles and backpacks filled with school materials to 45 of the youngest children he is working with.