Jordon Zimmerly and Jonah Langelotz say the three weeks they spent helping youth in Ecuador this summer was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
The duo, who are teammates on the Canadian Mennonite University men’s soccer team, travelled to Puerto Lopez, Ecuador in July as part of the Manitoba to Ecuador project.
The project, which was founded in 2011 by Steinbach Regional Secondary School teacher Mark Reimer, brings Manitoba soccer players to Puerto Lopez to work with players at the Los Canarios Soccer Club.
Zimmerly and Langelotz travelled to Puerto Lopez with the intent of helping out with the soccer club. What they didn’t realize was they would build relationships with approximately 30 players and become role models for them.
"It seemed like we were just going down there to play soccer, but there’s really a whole big picture behind it. I think we ended up doing a whole lot more than that, even though we were just connecting with them through soccer," Langelotz said.
Langelotz, who lives in the West End, said Puerto Lopez is a poor community and many of the 10 to 22 year-old players come from unhealthy home situations. Many of the players’ parents have battled alcohol or drug abuse.
"Part of the idea of the program was ideally for Canadian males to come down and be role models," the 19-year-old said.
Zimmerly, who also lives in the West End, said while he and Langelotz were sometimes frustrate by the language barrier, they were able to find other ways to build positive relationships with the players.
"It was extremely gratifying. We were surprised at the connections and relationships we were able to develop with the boys," the 22-year-old said.
"By the end of the trip we realized that the communicating we were doing just by playing soccer and having fun together was a way to establish relationships that were far more meaningful than we initially thought."
Reimer said providing the Los Canarios players with positive male role models is an important part of the program.
"The (players) desperately need to see young men who are not violent, and aren’t alcoholics," he said.
"Both (Langelotz and Zimmerly) are just wonderful young men. Their willingness to reach out and get involved in someone else’s lives was huge."
Reimer said the next step in the Manitoba to Ecuador project is to start bringing Los Canarios players to Manitoba for a semester of schooling.
He’s gone as far as getting the Hanover School Division to agree to host two students, who will be arriving next February. He is also selling Ecuadorian scarves to raise money for the soccer club. The scarves sell for $15 each.
Reimer said he hopes to continue to build connections with soccer players who have an interest in volunteering in Puerto Lopez.
For more information on the Manitoba to Ecuador project visit
manitobatoecuador.wordpress.com. If you wish to get involved with the project, or purchase a scarf, email Reimer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone him at 204-346-1942.