Celtic FC Foundation creates football Paradise in Haiti

IT is far from Glasgow’s Paradise but Celtic FC Foundation has helped create a patch of heaven out of what had been hell in Haiti.

It’s almost two years since the local community celebrated the opening of Celtic Park Haiti in the island’s capital of Port-au-Prince. It followed the earthquake in 2010 that devastated the island, leaving many inhabitants without homes or sustenance.

Camps were set up in areas as relief agencies built homes, drainage systems and all the infrastructure that makes life possible for people struggling under the impact of natural disaster.

There is a gem amid the turmoil. With the hard work and dedication of CRS and the community, and with support from Celtic FC Foundation, a previously uninhabitable area now houses a community recreational park.

The project has gone from strength to strength since it was opened, not only proving to be a facility that helps the community but one that has had to overcome severe challenges, including initial opposition by gang leaders.

The island has faced a long road to anything approaching normality but Celtic Park Haiti, situated in Solino, one of Port-au-Prince’s notoriously poor areas, is fully equipped with a near regulation-size artificial turfed football field, basketball and handball courts, a stage for community events, seating, lighting and Celtic Park signage.

Much of the land was covered by debris and rubble and residents were forced to occupy tents in the park, displaced by the tragedy which unfolded and destroyed many homes.

In the months after the earthquake, work started on clearing drainage canals backed up with debris and garbage from other parts of the city. Homes were rebuilt and families’ livelihoods were slowly re-established.

The park has proved to be an extraordinary blessing for a hard-pressed community. Activities there include:

– After-school and weekend football training for children eight to 12-years-old and 14 to 18-years-old

– Weekly sports training, including for the Haiti State University football team

– Football tournaments against other local teams

– Social and community activity: dance with DJ

– After-school homework activities with primary school children

One of the CRS workers recently visited the park and described it as a vital piece of the community that is constantly being used. He added: “The locals are so thankful that it is such an incredible resource for the community has been built.”

Lisa Railey, Senior Regional Development director of CRS, who has been involved with the project since its inception, said: “I met two of the CRS/Haiti staff who were instrumental in getting this field started with me. 

“They were so proud to see the pictures and hear the stories about how the field is such a vital piece of the community. The young man who created this idea with me was so excited to see the pictures and hear how successful the football has been within the community.”

She added: “The woman who initially was managing the camp told me that the gangs of Solino threatened her when she told them we were cleaning out the camp and creating a football field.

“She went to the community leaders and said that they were afraid for their safety and that CRS would not be converting the space into a football field. The community was upset but understood. 

“Two or three days later, she got a call at the office saying the gangs had agreed to let the space be made into a football field.”

It now is a centre of all community life, a slice of Paradise in Haiti.

Tony Hamilton, Chief Executive of Celtic FC Foundation, said: “Celtic FC Foundation is delighted with the progress of Celtic Park Haiti. It was a very emotional experience to visit there in 2015 but it’s a venture that is truly worthwhile.

“We look forward to watching Celtic Park Haiti develop over the coming years and are extremely proud to be part of this project.”