When my life was at risk, I played football, and when I fled my country, I kept playing. When I face problems, I turn to football.

My name is Jenny Diaz; I’m 18yrs old and a coach for The Sports Creative program FC Max Myers in Philadelphia. I was born and raised in El Salvador but aged 14, I fled for my life under threat from the gangs.

Football is essential in my life; I faced challenges as a girl. However, I played everyday, no matter where I was. At home, on the street, school, or in the field.

No matter who you are, where you are from, or what language you speak, you can play football, have fun and be healthy.

I am a forward, and my hero is Lionel Messi, he is left-footed just like me! Where I grew up, football was just for boys, and I didn’t listen. My sister inspired me; she would say:

“Go play and have fun! Show them that you can do what they do and more.”

I grew up in El Salvador, and it is a country with honest, kind people, which are things I like to remember. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has been categorized as one of the region’s most corrupt and violent countries.

I had to leave El Salvador because my life was being threatened. One day my Uncle, who is in the military, turned up at my school and said I had to leave. I was scared, upset, and frustrated that criminals had the power to force me to leave my home, my friends, my pets, and my life.  My grandfather would say, “I was born here, and I die here.” That wasn’t an option for me.

So we left, and we joined a caravan of people trying to enter the US. First through Guatemala, then Mexico, before we reached the US. On my 15th birthday, after two months of walking from city to city, I arrived in the US.

I was sent to a foster home for children separated from their families. I could hardly speak to anyone, but the home had a football field. These football games were a tool for me to begin communicating with others again.

I was moved from city to city until they relocated me to Philadelphia with my Mother.

My life in Philadelphia is not perfect, but I feel safe, there are laws to protect my rights. Philadelphia is the home of the liberty bell, I relate to it because it is about liberty, and I had to migrate to another country because of my lack of freedom.

Freedom is not just about living, it’s also about being able to be. Having the right to express yourself without judgment.

For me, football has helped my social and mental well-being. I have social anxiety, but on the field, I forget my insecurities, my shyness, and my fear of approaching other people. This has helped me assimilate in high school; it’s how I met my friends.

FC Max Myers has helped me grow. It’s a place where there is love and friendship, where I forget my shyness and anxiety. It’s not only a place to work, it’s a family for me.

FC Max Myers was created by The Sports Creative, in partnership with Love.fútbol and Cityzens Giving. Special thanks to Ortex, for helping us grow our impact.