It hasn’t always been easy. As a woman, I have faced challenges. When a girl starts playing football, she must remember that she is just as important and strong as any other person and should never doubt herself.
My name is Aileen Pérez de la Cruz; I am 23 years old and a community football coach for Natlik in Valle de Chalco, Mexico.
As a girl playing football, I faced comments from those who didn’t take me seriously. As a girl, you have to ignore those comments, whatever they say, and believe in yourself. You also have to conquer internal doubt, feeling insecure and shy, and living through the eyes of others.
Football is like life for girls; some people do not believe you can do things well. They don’t believe until you prove them wrong, and then they believe. I am inspired by women who have overcome challenges and made incredible contributions, like Dr. Wendy Suzuki, the neuroscientist, and Marie Curie, the physicist. These women inspire me. We have the potential!
My mother inspires me. She used to work in many trades, such as cleaning, selling, or making piñatas. Sadly, my mother got sick. When we went to the doctor, they gave us the bad news that she had breast cancer. It was shocking news, and my brother was only two years old. Being three children and with my mother’s health expenses, forced us to move to Valle de Chalco. Even during those hard times, her strength inspired me always to be strong and know that if we’re healthy nothing is impossible.
My mom survived and could focus on the family and her business. We currently have a store for raw materials and a Candy Store. My mother has always taught me to be honest and work hard for what I want. Thanks to her, I am an empathetic person and supportive of others.
I found adapting very difficult when we first arrived in Valle de Chalco. I did not know anyone. I missed my old home and my friends. My cousins would visit, which helped. However, their parents would not let them stay here due to the violent reputation of the area. This area is famous for the fact that there is a lot of crime. However, I know that violence exists in many places, and that is why I am used to living here.
The violence is just one story, but it is not the full story of this community. Valle de Chalco is also very quiet, like a magical town with no traffic, where I can bike wherever I want.
I can even go to the hill to connect with nature. I like to go to the hill when I have the opportunity once or twice a month, and more since it is about twenty minutes from my house. It is a special place for me because I can go with my friends; when I feel sad or happy, it helps me think and take a breath.
The first person I met in Valle de Chalco is now my partner, Yair. He was the one who helped me get rid of my fear of practicing new things and getting into the world of football. I immediately met the Natlik team; Natlik is a community organization supporting children and families. However, it is more than an association; it is a family where I have found support, direction, and solidarity. Natlik has given me the tools to improve myself professionally and personally, I am a community football coach for Natlik in Valle de Chalco.
In Valle de Chalco, there are various challenges, as in many other places, from backwardness in education, lack of values, drug addiction, vandalism, and pregnancies at an early age, just to mention a few. With these challenges, I am so pleased to work for Natlik to improve the quality of life through football for many children here.
Through Natlik, our role is to help the community with tools to change the challenges of their locality. Football is a sport that has challenged me and helped me grow; it has changed my life, and I want to share this with my community.
As a child, my dad tried to get me to practice some sports, I went to swimming, basketball, and volleyball classes, yet football always caught my attention, so I decided to look for training because I was very sorry to play in the parks. So it was at the age of 12 that I started playing for the first time. I was a very shy girl, and I thought football was very masculine and I couldn’t play. However, a very good friend encouraged me to practice it; from that moment, my life changed in all aspects.
Football has taught me to overcome my limits, and manage my behavior, forging a discipline of values between hard work, humility, and respect. Football also supports you socially, helping you connect with diverse people.
I have the best job in the world as a Coach for Natlik, I have made so many friendships. Above all, helping children in our community means more than anything.
I coach boys ranging from 4 to 17 years old. During my training sessions, I like that the participants have fun since having a good time makes you learn better, and I like that the boys put into practice their skills and values.
I feel a vocation to teaching, and as a result, I studied educational psychology, an opportunity that suddenly presented itself to me. I also have a brother with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which motivated me to finish my degree.
My studies taught me that ADHD is like having an unstoppable machine in your head. In addition, it allowed me to help my parents and my brother to see that it is not something that limits you from doing things, even if it is a challenge on a day-to-day basis. It motivated us to come together to support my brother in things like his homework because he has difficulty paying attention and retaining information. However, the process has been very rewarding for everyone.
Now I have a great purpose in life, so I continue learning different ways or methodologies to help change what has affected my community for years. Until now, putting into practice games with various themes is something that helps to improve children’s learning and to be able to understand it better.
For me, people must be honest with themselves, respect each other, and above all that, there is solidarity to create a better environment for future generations. My central values are based on honesty, respect, and love.
Voices From Xico is part of a storytelling curriculum featuring nine community Coaches committed to the power of sport. The Coaches are part of the Natlik organization and their partners include love.fútbol and Cityzens Giving (Manchester City), Xylem, Disney, and Coaches Across Continents.