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Ecuador: Dreamtown
Soccer's ticket out


Betty Bastidas

Betty Bastidas is a video producer, photographer and educator based in New York. She uses filmmaking and photography as social tools to celebrate the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. A recent graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, her projects have featured in the New York Times, PBS, and BET, as well as Vibe, Trace, and Esquire magazines.

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Length: 16:36

Futbol, or soccer, has long been a national obsession in South American countries like Brazil and Colombia. But it is another story for Ecuador, which took 68 years to qualify for the World Cup.

In 2002, when Ecuador finally made it to the tournament in South Korea-Japan, it was such an historic event for the country that everything stopped. Businesses and schools closed while people took to the streets to celebrate. The media lionized the team and the coach as national heroes. History was made again in 2006, as Ecuador, despite being heavy underdogs, advanced to the second round by beating Poland and Costa Rica.

So it is no wonder that this small Andean country of approximately 13.3 million people has now become obsessed with the game. And for me and the more than 1.5 million Ecuadorians living overseas, these victories have also helped put Ecuador on the world map.

soccer field

Over half the squad that took Ecuador to the last two World Cups originate from El Chota Valley.

As a storyteller, I was struck most by the role Afro-Ecuadorians have played in Ecuador's rise to soccer prominence, and by how many of its national players come from the northern part of the country called El Chota Valley

Over half the squad that took Ecuador to the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 originate from the valley, where people are 90 percent Afro-Ecuadorian. This ethnic minority, originally brought to Ecuador as slaves, now make up about five percent of the overall population.

But in the areas they live, there is little evidence of government investment. I visited towns without electricity, schools, or other basic services and infrastructure.

Many Afro-Ecuadorian families, like that of Anibal Chala, one of the young players in the story, are forced to move to major cities, such as Quito or Guayaquil, to look for better opportunities.

Having lived in the United States for more than 20 years, when I return to Ecuador, it's discouraging to see the lack of acceptance toward Afro-Ecuadorians. Each time I visit, I hear the typical barrage of stereotypes: "They are lazy;" "they are thieves," "they are aggressive."

Yet, in recent years, those attitudes have begun to change, perhaps because of the success of Ecuadorian futbol and national pride in the country's players of African descent.

Ecuador: Dreamtown

It took Ecuador 68 years to qualify for the World Cup. Now soccer has become a national pastime.

"Now it is futbol that is saving us," says Ulises De la Cruz, an international futbol star, who played in two World Cups for Ecuador. Ulises, like many other soccer heroes from El Chota Valley, has not forgotten his roots and uses his sports success to bring social progress to these communities.

He opened a nonprofit organization called FundeCruz to rebuild his hometown. His projects have brought a medical center, clean water, roads, schools and a gym to the valley.

It's De la Cruz's success that keeps other young hopefuls like 13-year-old Anibal and 23-year-old Carlos Maldonado determined to make it and lead their families out of poverty. But reality is another story -- only 10 players out of thousands make it professionally each year.

Ecuador did not make it to the 2010 World Cup, losing in a heartbreaking home defeat to Uruguay, but the young Afro-Ecuadorian players in El Chota Valley continue dreaming of soccer as a ticket out.

-- Betty Bastidas

Comments for this page are closed.


Ximena Vayas - Los Angeles, Ca
It is so true that the Afro-Ecuadorian population has been oppressed, ignored and discriminated throughout the history of our country. Yet, it is so satisfying to see their own improvement as individuals, particularly in the area of sports as well as their social development as a small ethnic group. Congratulations to the FendeCruz organization that is promoting this social change through sporting activities like football, the passion of our country!

I got goosebumps from the intro. Growing up watching Ecuador try to qualify to the best tournament had always been disappointing but recently the team and players have made us very proud of their accomplishments and still the memories of the WC 2006 ring in our minds..Thank you very much for this.

Robert Donoso - Astoria, New York
I often wondered where in Ecuador do most soccer players that represent my country grew up and trained. Let's hope that the Ecuadorian government take notice and invest in much needed basic services of these poor towns, especially if they want to continue to make history at World Cup events. "You reap what you sow!" Please let me know how I can help. I applaud you for your great work and for going behind the scenes to capture the challenges faced by prospective professional soccer players. May God bless you indeed!

Thank you very much to present this beautiful film of my country Ecuador. I have been living in NY for many years, and I really been touch for the story of these young boys that struggle to get into a professional futbol team. Well done, keep doing the good work
May God Bless you

Ernesto Tabasa - Oakland, CA
I really love this documentary! In the U.S., too much attention is frequently placed on the physical prowess of African-American athletes; perpetuating stereotypes, as if no hard work is involved in achieving athletic success. This documentary does the opposite; it explores the importance of motivation, intellect, discipline and hard work when pursuing dreams. Each athlete had extremely moving stories to tell - stories that also placed value on family and community. I was really touched by Anibal's story - I hope he makes it! :)

Natasha Rosen - Oakland, CA
Thank you for creating this incredible documentary!!! What a powerful story of dreams woven through the perspectives of three different lives. This is a view point that is so necessary for the world to see because, unfortunately, marginalized communities are often overlooked. Thank you for being a voice for this community.

Football & Latin America has its own destiny. It is far more interesting that both bifurcates and converge in the same context. Both are mutually connected.The heart of Ecuador is just like a football. Their aim to place their ball safe in between the posts. So it is clear unjustifiable to compare a Latin American country to football because football is their breath and life.

Larry Arias - Bronx, NY
As a American born Ecuadorian, I am very proud to see all of the beauty depicted in our country and all of the struggles that my people face which is a universal struggle and speaks volumes.

Mohammed - Syracuse, Ny
Powerful is a role model! Wondering if those same kids had a well educated role model, may be a lot more would have made it big. Hence, a better Ecuador.

ossining, NY
Mi Betty admiro mucho su esfuesrso y dedicacion este trabaja es exelente me siento muy orgullosa . Todo lo que se hace con amor da muy buenos frutos .La felicito y tambien a Martin un abraso

C Decker - Ossining, NY
It's amazing that even as Latinos struggle for equality here in the US, that the ignorance can still exist among Latinos in Ecuador where a person can be judged merely based on the color of their skin. La Chota definitely needs to be put on the map and I am hopeful that this piece will do just that. Great job!

Douglas Treado - Edenton, North Carolina
Great to see this, as these videos and films help inform the rest of the world of the many groups that comprise our world. Thanks for your excellent work, Ms. Bastidas, and also to FRONTLINE and the Park Foundation, too, for continuing to bring to the international public these fine programs....

mike lieber - getzville, ny
Well Done! Yes! Physical Activity changes people!

Beth Williford - Stamford, CT
Lovely work Ms. Bastidas. Inspiring and heartbreaking story all at the same time. I've spent a lot of time in Ecuador but have never visited the Chota Valley. I was there during their 2006 World Cup performance. The elation shared by everyone during the matches is a favorite memory of mine.

Afro-Ecuadorians and other Latin Americans of African descent are a population that badly need to be covered in the media.
I'm so happy to see this story - and would love for it to be broadcast.

Oakland, CA
Nice characters and interesting story... very timely piece with the World Cup going on. It's too bad Ecuador didn't make it this year. I wonder what will happen to the players and people from Chota Valley? I am a soccer coach and will be recommending this film to my players/parents!

quito, ecuador
Betty, te felicito está espectacular este reportaje, muy real, es la verdadera historia tras el triunfo de unos pocos, y la tristeza de los demás que no pueden cumplir sus sueños de ser futbolistas.

Eddie Gonzales - Long Island City, NY
Incredible story and perfect timing!!! This is one of those untold stories that should be featured not only on PBS but also on popular sports networks like ESPN HBO Sports to tell the story of the privileged few athletes that make it in poverty ridden nations and their struggles... This left me wanting more! I wonder what the other untold stories are in other parts of the less privileged world... GREAT JOB BETTY!

Marian Isel Barragán - Brooklyn, NY
A thoughtful and insightful video on the economic and social implications a sport can have on an otherwise marginalized community. This ties in wonderfully with the 2010 World Cup. When will the full length film air on PBS? Many thanks.

- San Francisco, CA
WOW! what a great story. I want to seem more. This is perfect time to share with the world the struggles that people go through to become a futbol player

Berkeley, CA
FABULOUS!! What perfect timing as we celebrate the first world cup games of 2010!! When will this be broadcast on PBS on TV to share with the world??

ian quiles - brooklyn, ny
Really interesting film, I love futbol and the passion of its supporters. Show me more DreamTown PBS!

Nia Lissimore - Suffolk, Virginia
Amazing Story! It is great to see the African diaspora being depicted in a country other than the United States. Great work Betty Bastidas!