María Francisca Perelló: «The practice of sports is happiness and overcoming. It helps to escape from the bad and, above all, it is education for life».
With the firm conviction that sport and education are transformative tools to help children be happy, the director of the Rafa Nadal Foundation tells how they achieve it with her different projects.
The clock strikes four in the afternoon and in the background a murmur of children's laughter can be heard. They belong to the students, between 5 and 17 years old and from the areas of Nou Llevant and La Soledat, who are beginning to arrive at the Rafa Nadal Foundation Center in Palma de Mallorca. A gigantic sign that reads "Here and now" welcomes them and reminds them of the art of living today in harmony with themselves and their environment. Meanwhile, on another wall, the words overcoming, effort, respect, friendship and illusion draw a spontaneous Scrabble, and pictorial murals that reflect their emotions and thoughts decorate the corridors.
«There are many minors who need programs like the one we offer here, in the first center, which we opened in 2014 –they have two others: in Valencia and Madrid–. Attending complements their comprehensive training. Through the different areas in which we work – sports, educational and psychotherapeutic – we contribute to improving their study habits, healthy living, hygiene or nutrition. In the same way, and on a more personal level, self-knowledge is also favored, you learn to manage emotions, control impulses, tolerate frustration... In short, we help them build a positive self-esteem that allows them to be happy. », says María Francisca Perelló (1988, Mallorca), director of the foundation that bears her husband's name. "From the entity we have a total commitment to those who live in situations of social disadvantage, and we must continue working to generate more opportunities, create safe environments and support children and young people with the aim of having a better future." To achieve this, they have three other projects of their own: Más que Tenis –in collaboration with Special Olympics, promotes the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the group and in society–, NETS –together with the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, they try to reduce inequalities in Anantapur, India, with regular tennis practice and computer and English classes– and Study & Play –scholarships that connect the talent of young students and athletes from Spain with the United States university system–. Each project is full of learning, friendships, smiles... and, especially, numerous individual stories in which personal and social growth and development are the common denominator.
How did the idea of creating the Rafa Nadal Foundation come about?
It was born 11 years ago, as a result of the desire of Rafael and Ana María, his mother, to contribute to a better world. They considered themselves lucky and wanted to contribute their grain of sand and return to society the love and support received in those years.
What's your objective?
We work with the firm conviction that sport and education are transformative tools with which a change can be achieved in the world. We accompany the boys on their way to a quality future. And we do it through the different projects that we have active. Throughout this time we have reached more than 7,000 children and young people.
How have you gained experience?
After more than a decade of daily work, we are aware that our impact on the lives of the beneficiaries is real and very important. We wanted to start up and develop our own projects with which to extend care to the people who need it most, and today we are in a position to say that we have achieved it.
How do you improve society with your work?
Sport and education are the main and common elements of all the initiatives that we carry out at the Rafa Nadal Foundation. Both are our fundamental pillars, and on them we base our method of intervention. They are clear facilitators for all people to go as far as they propose thanks to their transforming power.
Is the way to change realities also to empower?
Yes, starting from the principle of positive psychology, that is, working from the capacities and potentialities of each one. And it is precisely that, the will to empower and put the person at the center of the intervention, which identifies all our work. Often, when we talk about people in vulnerable situations or people with disabilities, we tend to think about what they lack or the problems they may have. However, we firmly believe in the possibilities of people as active agents of change and in their potential to transform their reality. We help to awaken their qualities and their potential and we accompany them. And we focus on helping children because they are the future and because our commitment is long-term.
How do you transmit values and learning through these two pillars?
Paulo Freire (pedagogue) already said it: «Education does not change the world, it changes the people who are going to change the world». And sport is an international language. It brings ideologies closer, breaks down borders, unites, inspires, motivates and directly affects the integral emotional well-being of the person. We have all known stories up close.
What human problems do you encounter on a daily basis?
A future full of challenges awaits this foundation to try to minimize the social inequalities that already existed before the arrival of covid-19 and that have now become more pronounced. The economic and social difficulties suffered by families have caused the child poverty rate to affect physical and mental health. In addition to the issues of bullying and cyberbullying and situations of stress and depression among young people.
You have centers in Palma, Valencia and, now, in Madrid.
Yeah, we started here in 2014, and it's a pretty thoughtful growth. When we start a project, we want to keep it going over time because it is about children, about families, and we cannot come and go or disappear. Each initiative is very thoughtful, we are very aware of the needs that exist in the area where we are going to start.
Do you think that somehow these little ones become a role model for adults?
For us, they are a motivation for you to be better. The capacity for learning and acclimatization that children have is something that adults do not have. It is innate in them. They teach you, especially in difficult, complicated or stressful moments, that you have to move on, that they understand and adapt.
In the United States, sport is more internalized in the culture than in Spain, and even philanthropy is more accepted than we are. As director at the head of a foundation, would you say that here we are finally changing our mentality in that sense?
It is important that each one contributes within their possibilities and that they contribute to the improvement of what surrounds them, in whatever field. Our motive is always to try to help, to give back a little to society for all the luck we have and how well life has treated us. In Europe and in Spain, many social impact initiatives are flourishing, both in the public and private spheres. As a population, we face such challenges and challenges that we cannot stand back. Every day more initiatives will emerge to face everything that is coming, and they will do it in a collaborative way. We work locally and on the network, because it is a job that you cannot do alone, without the help of anyone.
After seeing all your extraordinary and supportive projects, what motivates you to keep going?
We want to continue taking steps forward and not take any steps back. Reach more territories and groups. This would not have been possible without the support, involvement and professionalism of the human team we have and work with, all of them with different profiles. It has allowed us to reach hundreds of minors and families who needed a quality educational option that they could not access due to lack of financial resources.
What is the message that you most like to spread from the Rafa Nadal Foundation?
The practice of sports is happiness, it is escaping from the bad, but, above all, it is education for life, it is self-improvement and a source of opportunities.
Source: ELLE España
(Translation via Google)