|   Posted: July 20, 2023

Karla lives in a dangerous community in El Salvador. Poverty made her future unsure. But when Karla began playing soccer at her Compassion center at age 9, everything started to change.

An Emerging Soccer Star Begins to Dream

Karla lives in a dangerous community in El Salvador. Poverty made her future unsure. But when Karla began playing soccer at her Compassion center at age 9, everything started to change.

Story and photos by Alejandra Zuniga, with Hayli Kieser
Karla lays on the field with a ball

Twelve-year-old Karla lives in an impoverished community in El Salvador. As newborns, Karla and her younger brother were abandoned by their parents. So their grandmother, Nora, stepped in to take care of them.

Since Nora is a widow and can no longer work, the family lived on her pension of $140 a month. At the same time, poverty, gang violence, assault and teen pregnancy made their community dangerous, especially for vulnerable girls like Karla.

All children living in poverty are vulnerable. But girls face a higher risk of abuse and exploitation. The numbers about girls in poverty are alarming:

  • Seven in 10 trafficking victims are women and girls.1
  • One in 5 girls are child brides.2
  • Over 129 million girls are denied education.3
Karla jumps and kicks a ball

Thankfully, when Karla was 6, she was registered at a local Compassion center. There, she met extraordinary people who cared about her needs. A few years later, when she was 9, Karla learned how to play soccer at the center’s sports club.

“I got interested in soccer when I watched games on the television with my grandmother. But the first time I touched a soccer ball was at the center,” says Karla.

Each week, Karla and the other kids at the center had soccer practices. Karla enjoyed the camaraderie with the other kids as they ate and played together before practice.

Karla’s coach, Jesus, also began teaching her exercises and techniques that would help her grow as a soccer player. Soon, Karla was the team captain as they played in local and regional soccer championships. Her coach saw that she had the raw talent to go far in the soccer world.

Nora also started to notice how much Karla loved soccer. “I am amazed, looking at her, how she plays soccer with enthusiasm and happiness,” she says.

But Nora could not pay for the equipment and transportation to and from practices that Karla would need to turn her passion into something bigger.

A Dream Takes Shape

That’s when Karla’s Compassion family stepped in — and Karla began to dream about a life beyond the poverty and violence surrounding her. El Salvador has several soccer leagues that talented players can try out for, with the potential that they can be chosen for an international league. This in turn can provide players with a good income.

Karla’s coach began to look for training sessions at the Female Teen National Soccer League of their state. These would allow Karla to practice with the team until age 14. After that, she could be selected to join the team, which could lead to her being recruited by a bigger league.

Karla talks with her coach

Eventually, Coach Jesus was able to get a meeting for Karla with the Female Teen League coach. The coach was impressed by Karla’s skills and good attitude and selected her to train.

At the same time, Karla’s Compassion center paid for all the soccer gear she needed to practice with the team, from shoes to uniforms. Coach Jesus, who was now like Karla’s surrogate father, began taking her to practice every week since it is outside of Karla’s community.

With the support of her coach and community, Karla has a new dream about her future. “Playing with this team allows me to be recruited as a prospect for international leagues. My biggest dream is to become an international soccer player. I want to fix our house and to provide for my grandmother and my brother,” says Karla.

More Than Just Soccer

Karla continues to work hard every week at practice, with the goal of improving her family’s life in the future. But this opportunity affects so much more than just Karla’s sports prospects. Because of soccer, Karla has a purpose for her future, which keeps her safe from the bad influences and other dangers in her community.

Karla is also learning valuable spiritual lessons.

“Right now, Karla is working with passion for her dream,” said Coach Jesus. “I teach her spiritual values, praying before every training, because it doesn’t matter if you are a great soccer star if you don’t have Jesus as Savior in your heart.”

Karla has found a second family at her Compassion center and with Coach Jesus. “I feel how he loves every member of the team and cares for us as a father,” says Karla. “Personally, he supports me a lot; it’s because of him that I am in the place where I am.”

Thanks to the local church and Compassion’s sponsorship program, Karla’s dream continues to change her life and the lives of others in so many ways!

Sources for statistics about vulnerable girls:
1 U.S. Office on Drugs and Crime
2Report: “Is An End to Child Marriage Within Reach?”

Champion a Girl

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You can empower a girl to believe in herself, find her voice and triumph over poverty.

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