|Alfredo Axtmayer '04 (center, back row) and Drew Chafetz '04 (right) join the children of Villa Nuevo in front of their new school.
The connection is bad, and the call gets dropped every few minutes. Alfredo Axtmayer ’04 is calling from a chaotic Internet café near the Guatemalan village where he’s been living since May. Despite the shaky connection, his enthusiasm comes through loud and clear. Axtmayer talks fast, laughs a lot, and is so chipper that it’s hard to believe he woke up with the roosters this morning.
Just a year and a half ago, Axtmayer was living in the United States teaching high-school Spanish and beginning to think about ways he could make a difference with kids on a broader scale. He and fellow soccer teammate Drew Chafetz ’04 dreamed up a plan for an international nonprofit organization that would spread their love of soccer and catalyze positive change in communities worldwide.
“The college gave me the tools necessary to think globally and have the confidence to take on a project like this,” Axtmayer explains.
Wasting no time, he and Chafetz quickly fleshed out the details of their dream. The result was love.fútbol, an organization that works with impoverished rural communities to build sustainable soccer fields for youths.
To get things started, the pair threw several successful fundraisers in rapid succession and were surprised and invigorated by the wealth of energy, donations and support generated from other young Dickinson alumni.
Love.fútbol officially kicked off in December with a three-week exploratory journey to Guatemala. During this trip, Axtmayer and Chafetz formed three major financial partnerships and saw more than 20 prospective field locations. They returned to the United States excited about their now-viable project.
After carefully considering different communities in which to launch their pilot soccer field, they settled on little Villa Nueva, where the children play on rocky, trash-strewn ground under the corrugated-tin scaffolding of an abandoned school. As a result of these uninviting and dangerous conditions, even the most ardent soccer players just head home after school most days, causing the village’s kids to miss out on what Axtmayer believes is a valuable tool for youth development.
“Soccer really helps build confidence and leadership, among so many other positive attributes,” he explains. “The sport can create a sense of hope, opportunity and inspiration for each of the children. It was such a powerful instrument in our own lives, and we want these children to have the same opportunity to develop themselves.”
When they returned to Villa Nueva in May, Axtmayer and Chafetz held a community meeting to propose their project to the local families. After fielding an initial barrage of questions from parents trying to figure out why two gringos cared about their village, they were able to get the attendees excited and on board.
The following Sunday, 50 of about 60 of the village’s fathers joined Axtmayer and Chafetz in tearing down the abandoned school to make room for a soccer field. They used the materials from the school to build a medical clinic and storage space for the village’s current school.
“The community has been an essential part in creating their own change,” says Axtmayer. “They have the skills and the camaraderie to do all the change themselves; they just need the financial backbone and someone to give them the idea.”
The project is now well underway. (The inaugural game was slated for August.)
“We’re going to have a round-robin tournament,” he explains. The village is ready to celebrate. “The fathers are talking about decorating the school, the department of physical education has made T-shirts, the mayor is sending a band, and we’re expecting national news coverage,” says Axtmayer excitedly.
But as soon as the first soccer ball skids across the new field, Axtmayer and Chafetz will be slinging their packs over their shoulders and taking off in search of their next location.
“We want to work wherever children are playing in destitute conditions,” says Axtmayer. “Love.fútbol is kind of a small thing in the greater scheme of life, but I really think we’re creating a new sense of hope. People are uplifted, and it’s palpable.”
To learn more, visit www.lovefutbol.org.