Keeping the Ball Rolling for Integration
In 2004 the Brazilian football team, the then world champion, got on the pitch in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to play a match against the national team. The friendly match, which became known as the Game of Peace, promoted a campaign for disarmament in the country and was an attempt to assuage the country in a context of crisis and conflict, as it welcomed the UN Peacekeeping Mission.
In a house without electricity in the northwest of the country, Jean, his parents and his three siblings gathered around the radio to listen to the match. "Every Haitian remembers that day. There were more people following the game outside than inside the stadium," he recalls. He would only be able to see images of the game six years later, when he watched the match on the television for the first time upon arriving in Brazil.
The football fan decided to migrate to Brazil at the age of 36. His main goal was to pursue higher education. “To achieve every goal, it is necessary to have a strategy and see how far you could possibly get.”
During his studies in Civil Engineering in Port-au-Prince, Jean could see Brazilian military planes land at the airport from the windows of his student apartment. Immersed in books, Jean would read about the characteristics of the soil, rock formations and geography of Brazil. He extensively studied state capitals like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but fate brought him to Recife, in the northeast of the country.
It was in a military plane, like those he watched from his window, that Jean eventually landed in a new city, a joint action between the governments of Brazil and Haiti. “It was 2010, and after the earthquake, commercial flights were no longer available. I remember not being able to sleep at night because I was leaving my country in a crisis after the earthquake. It was a difficult experience to go through,” he admits.
The language barrier, which was frightening at first, he has long overcome. Even settled into his new home, he still wants to find ways to help his home country. “All Haitians have a very strong feeling about our country. Today, I can say that I look for ways to develop the education and the technology in my country.”
Jean now runs a geotechnics company, focused on the study of the soil and subsoil. He is also a researcher in oil and gas and is completing his PhD in Civil Engineering.
After starting his new life in Brazil, he managed to bring his siblings Juliette, Benedict and Davidson to the country as well. He also married Iracema, a Brazilian woman, and their daughter, Esther Marina, just turned ten. With his family and friends, he created an NGO called GADE, that supports with the distribution of humanitarian supplies both in Haiti and Brazil, as well as the integration of refugees and migrants through different initiatives in education, sports and leisure.
Football, the passion that connected him to Brazil even before becoming a migrant, remains a big part of Jean’s life. "Sports can be a tool for social change. It can be a means to address important matters for the lives of migrants and focus attention on much-needed public policies."
That's how the Pernambuco Cup for Migrants and Refugees came about. The Cup is a project aimed at the socioeconomic integration of migrants in the region. In 2022, with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and several other entities, the competition brought together men and women of 12 nationalities. In addition to the matches, the event includes lectures about rights and citizenship, cultural presentations and a fair featuring migrant entrepreneurs.
The positive response from the public motivated Jean and his co-organizers to start planning the next edition. “We want our project to address xenophobia, racism, and to also seek peace in the stadiums.”
Jean and his colleagues are making progress in building a more inclusive society, providing the migrant community with tools for integration while driving local development.
“People migrate for various reasons, because they want peace, because they are seeking a better education or to be with their family, for example. This strength and motivation we have is an engine that must be used to keep the ball rolling,” Jean says.
People migrate for various reasons; because they want peace, because they are seeking a better education or to be with their family, for example. This strength and motivation we have is an engine that must be used to keep the ball rolling.