Piles of children hang onto the back of La Mariposa pickup truck. A jabbering gang of fifth graders from the Barrio Panama primary school have just helped me flip a large blue barrel full of water onto its side in the bed of the truck. The water pours from the barrel, over the grinning, yelling children, onto a dried out sandlot in the hills of Barrio Panama. Clouds of dust billow into the hot air as the truck drives in circles around the small brown rectangle of land we’ve chosen to commandeer for our Earth Day soccer tournament. The small hilly outcropping above the field is lined with children. They cheer on the progress of the truck, in eager anticipation for the moment when the field is completely watered and La Mariposa interns finally relinquish control of the soccer ball to let the tournament begin.
The black pickup, adorned with side by side decals of Mazda and Che Guevara, progresses across the small field in jolting zigzags and tight circles before the flow of water tapers off. Students flood onto the field as the truck leaves, only to be corralled back to the edges by a small group of shouting, sweaty teachers. With surprising efficiency two teams occupy opposing sides of the makeshift soccer field. I raise the ball above my head as I step into the center of the slightly damp, but newly dust repellant, soccer pitch. My explanation of the rules, delivered in stilted, improvisational Spanish, is widely ignored and as the ball is released the entire field erupts into frenzied, kicking activity.
The soccer tournament was just one part of La Mariposa organized Earth Day activities at Escuela Panama and Ruben Dario. In order to both raise awareness of the environment, and to physically improve the litter situation surrounding both schools, La Mariposa interns organized a day long trash cleanup project, which was completed successfully last Wednesday.
At Escuela Panama, the students were divided into six different teams, distinguished by different colored masking tape stuck to their shirts, and given recycled rice sacks to collect trash as they walked down the street towards the makeshift soccer field. They brandished posters with phrases such as “Feliz Dia de la Tiera” and “Mi Comunidad es Bonita Porque yo no Boto la Basura en la Calle” to passing motorists. Upon arrival at the soccer field the group paused for a midmorning snack of fresh fruit and juice, and then continued with the grand, exciting, Earth Day soccer tournament. La Mariposa’s dirt covered interns ate a hurried lunch back at the Spanish school and headed out again to repeat the process at Escuela Ruben Dario that afternoon.
Not even the presence of Mariposa volunteers could stop a rowdy group of older Ruben Dario students from secretly mixing their team labels and plunging the afternoon soccer tournament into an anarchic free for all. After three games I was forced to give up on the tournament bracket in order to refocus efforts on including the younger teams.
“Who here is on the Black team,” I shout to a group of over forty giddy Ruben Dario students. All hands are raised. Children who just played in the Blue vs Red match push their way to the front of the crowd to assure me of their allegiance to the Black team. One would be footballer tries to pull the ball from under my elbow. I raise the ball above my head, pick out five kids who had been standing in the Black team’s general area at snack time, and watch as the entire group fights their way towards the soccer two PVC pipe goals.
As the “tournament” crashed along at this disorganized pace, and I began to recognize the repeat offenders sneaking into every game, the more competitive soccer players lost interest and drifted back in the direction of public transportation and their homes. The day concluded with an ecstatic group of girls kicking the soccer ball down the street as the dirt covered Mariposa interns trucked bags of collected garbage back home for later sorting.
A resounding success.