By Wallas Souza dos Santos

03 June 2016 - 19:51

'The pain in my heart, in my chest, made it very hard to smile again.' Photo by Charles Siqueira.
'The pain in my heart, in my chest, made it very hard to smile again.' Photo ©

Charles Siqueira.

Wallas Souza dos Santos, 15, talks about losing his 13-year-old sister to gun violence and how he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch this summer after taking part in Premier Skills.

I was born in Bahia, a state in north-eastern Brazil. We used to live in a small town in the interior of Bahia, called Ubatã. Back then, when I wasn't in school, I used to fly kites and play with marbles, and I was addicted to video games. That was it.

When I was 13, my family and I moved to Rio, and I became more interested in football. My dream became to be a football player, to work hard for my family's future. When I was interviewed to take part in Premier Skills [community programme of the British Council and the Premier League], they asked me if I was shy. I think I am, but the programme is helping me overcome my shyness. Before I joined the project, I had few friends. Now I've met many new people and I have several friends, new friends.

Apart from football training, I really enjoyed building our community garden. There used to be lots of rubbish there until we cleaned it up. First, I carried bricks. Then, I helped dig and plant flowers; and now, we have a garden.

We need new things in the favela, for children and older people. Today, they sit in our garden and breathe a different kind of air. I think it’s beautiful.

The coaches show us respect. They teach us about respect, and not to use bad language.

Since joining, I've been to museums, met new people, helped to paint a graffiti trail in our neighbourhood, and travelled to São Paulo. Going to São Paulo was the first time I was on a plane. Even though I'm scared of heights, I wasn't afraid.

I've also learned that if there is waste on the street or in the ditches, you can catch a disease, like dengue fever. So, we try to take away bottles that are thrown out. Rubbish should be in the bin. Now, when people pass the areas we have worked to make pretty, they stop to look and take photos. I feel very proud. I took a lot of care of these places.

In my family, everyone is joyful and smiles a lot. I have four siblings: my late sister Tais, Riquelme, Junior, and Carol. My little sister, who passed away not long ago, also took part in Premier Skills. I think about her every day. What she most liked doing was drawing.

After she was hit in our home by a stray bullet, I saw her lying down. It gets stuck in your mind and it won’t go away. This pain in my heart, in my chest – it has made it very hard to smile again. The project is helping me forget about it a little bit. The people who run it were there with me, by my side, in good times and bad. It is still helping me.

How can you face a difficult situation? By going out to a park or a garden, doing something you like, trying to find distractions, talking. This is the only way to take the pain from your chest. The thoughts don’t go away, but if you have friends, you can at least talk about other things with them. My friends have really supported me. If it wasn't for them, I don’t know what would become of me.

This summer, I'm going to be an Olympic torch bearer. It's been a long journey for me. I came from Bahia, arrived in Rio, started taking part in Premier Skills – and I worked hard, I'm a kid who likes to work – but I still couldn't believe it when, out of the blue, they told me I'd been picked to carry the Olympic torch.

Now I'm starting to believe it. I'm carrying the torch on 14 July 2016 in Paraná, and my birthday is five days later.

Why did they pick me? I am committed to things, and I treat Premier Skills like a job. I've learned to battle, to struggle, to never give up on my dreams. I think this is why I was chosen: to overcome this shyness I have in my stomach when I carry the torch. It's a joy that only a few people get to have.

Find out more about Premier Skills, the British Council's partnership programme with the Premier League, or learn English through football with Premier Skills English.

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