BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Lorena Oliva, a mother in her 40s, sits on a mound of earth in a field littered with trash. She doesn’t take her eyes off her 10-year-old daughter, Milagros, at field hockey practice.
Holding a field hockey stick, the girl runs from one side of the field to the other practicing with her teammates, who are also her neighbors in an underprivileged suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital. As the sun beats down on the girls, Milagros comes over to her mother throughout practice to drink from a water bottle that she keeps cool in the shade.
Milagros plays field hockey in Lomas de Zamora, a municipality an hour bus ride from the capital. Her town has one main street, flanked with smaller, narrow streets with houses precariously erected one after the other, like a giant labyrinth.
Every Saturday, Oliva leaves her house at noon with her daughter, and they walk for a half hour to the open area where El Puente Posible, a civil society association, organizes a field hockey program. The organization, whose name translates to “The Possible Bridge,” aims to give children from disadvantaged areas the opportunity to develop sports skills.
“She really likes to come,” Oliva says of her daughter. “More than going to school. I think that the sport helps her in everything."
And Oliva always attends the practice too in order to ensure her daughter's safety.
"I always accompany her," Oliva says. "There are other mothers who leave them alone, who make the girls come alone. I, no.”
Oliva, the mother of seven children, says her eighth child died this past year at 1 month old. She pauses as if she is going to stop speaking but then continues. She adds that her husband is in prison for drug trafficking. She does everything she can to keep Milagros, her youngest daughter, safe.
“I am afraid like everyone,” she says. “The fears always exist. In school, I tell her to go to the bathroom during recess. I don’t want her ever to leave the classroom alone. That she notices in the street that no one follows her and that if someone follows her more than two blocks, she gets running.”
She says the area is dangerous for girls.
“I am afraid that they’ll take her, that they’ll rape her, that they’ll murder her,” she says. “Here, there are many cases.”
Oliva says that in addition to organizing field hockey practices and games, the program also arranges chats for the girls ages 11 and older about these issues. Topics range from gender-based violence to sexuality to personal care.
“Starting in the coming year, when she is 11, my daughter is going to be able to go to these chats,” Oliva says. “They are very good. Meanwhile, the sport also does her good.”
El Puente Posible convenes young and teenage girls in disadvantaged areas to teach them how to play field hockey in Argentina, where sports are usually a domain for boys.