I would like to thank The Dog River Howlers Rugby Club for everything they have done to support the growth of rugby in Medellin, Colombia.
The Howlers have sent packages of balls and other rugby resources for each of my 4 trips to Colombia.
For my 5th trip, which will be spring 2014, The Howlers have made an extremely generous donation of well over 200 jerseys, 50 pairs of shorts, socks, mouth guards, practice cones, and 10 Gilbert rugby balls. All brand new.
This donation will go to great use in Medellin and I am very grateful for all the support.
The Howlers philosophy of “it’s more than just a game, it’s a way of life” is easily translated into Spanish, and truly bought into by the kids it supports in Colombia.
The Story of Moravia and “El Morro”
“El Morro”, “El Cerro de Basuras”, “The Garbage Hill”
Throughout the 1900’s people have come to Medellin searching for refuge from constant violence in rural areas.
Because of its close proximity to the railroad, Moravia was the first place people who had moved to Medellin would arrive at.
Moravia was used as a garbage dump for the city of Medellin. In the 1970’s, over 100 tons of waste was dumped there on a daily basis.
Without opportunities or even a place to call home, people began to inhabit the garbage mountain and tried to create “a job” for themselves by sifting through and recycling garbage.
This mountain became known as “El Morro”.
In 1983 the city closed down the site as a dump, but people continued to come to the garbage mountain looking for some sort of security and way of life.
In 1984 a devastating fire took place on El Morro, the fire burnt for days destroying houses and leaving thousands of people homeless.
People of Medellin say that while burning, the mountain of garbage resembled a glowing volcano. People rebuilt their houses using what they could and continued with their community.
Because of its close proximity to the railroad, Moravia became a hub for illegal contraband, and the violence escalated.
In the 1990’s Time magazine labeled Moravia as one of “the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world”.
The Colombian government tried to physically displace the people.
The battle between the people of Moravia and the government only accelerated.
One night police came on the mountain and physically forced people of El Morro, destroying their houses and bulldozing the community school in the process.
With no opportunities for anything different, the people rebuilt.
The next time the police showed up, the women and children formed a human fence around their community.
Today, most of the people have been moved off the hill in a more peaceful manner, but still a few “favelas” (hand made houses) remain.
At the bottom of this hill, there is a field with a very unique history of its own being tied to the legendary drug trafficker Pablo Escobar.
Those stories are best told from the people who lived through it.
“Del Morro” Rugby Project
Named after the garbage hill that gave a community life for so many years and in whose shadow this dream started.
The idea that a community can survive off “leftovers” is the idea behind this project where old balls, old equipment, old people, can all be used.
I came to Medellin for the first time in 2010 as an attempt to gain social work experience.
Two weeks prior to arriving, I was asked to bring some rugby balls and do some classes in the Moravia neighbourhood.
I had no knowledge of rugby being in Colombia but later found it had been developing in the country over the past 20 years (originally started by expats in Bogotá).
Medellin has both men’s and women’s leagues of all age groups.
Equipment, exposure, and “rugby knowledge” is what is lacking which El Morro Rugby hopes to address all those needs.
The city of Medellin is developing sporting facilities at a tremendous rate.
There is already a brand new two rugby field sports complex, with 3 more rugby pitches approved to be built in 2014.
El Morro is not an attempt to bring a new sport to the country, it is an attempt to use rugby’s gaining popularity, and giving youth surrounded in violence a different avenue.
Three years ago we had our first practice on a field of lumpy grass/dirt/garbage at the bottom of El Morro.
Today over 100 kids are involved with rugby in the neighbourhood, they practice in the same location; however, now there is a beautiful synthetic turf field at the bottom of the “garbage mountain”.
The rugby players of the neighbourhood have taken the rugby recourses already brought in and ran with them.
They have created and entered their own club called the Moravia Myrmidons Rugby Club.
They have entered in the league and in several tournaments, already having won city titles in the U16 and U18 age brackets.
Six players from the club have been selected for the U16 state team (Antioquia), and another 2 have made the U18 Colombian National Team.
Del Morro Rugby hopes to continue bringing recourses to develop rugby in Colombia.
The hope is that as we develop in Moravia, these players can begin to take their rugby knowledge into other areas thought too “caliente” (hot, dangerous).
If anyone can work in these neighbourhoods the Moravia kids would be the ones to do it.
Their story is well known.