A Scottish ex-pat who uses football to keep kids on the straight and narrow in one of Brazil's toughest favelas is being given a royal seal of approval this week, writes Jacob Bentley-York.
Adam Reid, chief executive of charity Street Child United Brazil, will receive his MBE at Buckingham Palace in recognition of his services to sport, underprivileged children and the British community in Brazil.
The Scot has spent the last few years helping to change lives in the favela district of Penha, which has previously been described as the centre of Rio’s drugs trade and ‘too violent’ for the city’s armed police unit.
Speaking atop Morro do Caracol hill outside the flagship football pitch he runs during this summer’s Copa America, the 58-year-old said: “I am very proud to have been recognised for everything I have done both in the favelas and in the British community, particularly in my work with the Rio British School.
“If anything, I hope the award gives more publicity to the charity and helps us move forward as an organisation because this is just the beginning.”
Reid, a long time event organiser, took on the role at the charity in 2013 after hearing of the struggles of children in the favela areas during a charity summit in London.
Under his leadership, SCUB became a mainstay in the community and a placeholder in local negotiations after forming an agreement with both the police and local gangs that their flagship football pitch would remain a ‘fight free zone’ in an area known for its daily violence.
“These days the kids live with the reality that a gunfight could break out at any point and there is simply nothing they can do about it,” he said.
“I’ve been in the middle of one of them before and I honestly don’t know how more people aren’t killed.”
Following his successful leadership at the 2014 Street Child World Cup, an event organised by the charity, he was then approached by GM Chevrolet to form a partnership that aimed to improve the lives of children from poor areas.
Their work together included sending SCUB girls to be mascots at Manchester United in 2015 as well as offering to build a new football pitch and provide training courses for their coaches in the region from Coaches Across Continents and the United Nations.
Coach Drika Santos, just 23 years old, is a standout beneficiary from the work the charity does.
A star in Brazil’s victorious campaign in the 2014 edition of the Street Child World Cup, she became a representative and trailblazer for the organisation, travelling the world and continuing to coach her younger compatriots as part of Reid’s scheme.
She said: “For me, a lot of my enthusiasm comes from the fact that I love working with the kids, they are my family and Adam is like a father to all of us.
“Street Child United gave me a job and gave me all these opportunities and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
On participation of the girls in particular, Reid said: “Our program would not exist without female leadership as, to our girls, it’s more than a game - it’s a family that goes beyond a field.
“Just recently, I was approached by two girls from the World Cup winning side asking to begin coaching eight year olds from the hill.
“To me, they demonstrate instinctive leadership and we always give them our full support.”