Most of our readers are familiar with the hagwon system, if not working directly for one. The demand for English instruction is pervasive, and even extends to soccer teams. Rising Star Football Academy combines English instruction with soccer practice to develop an immersive environment for their students. The Academy partners with the Won Shot Wonders foreigner football team to provide English-language soccer instruction to Korean and non-Korean children. Coach James McAloon explains that their mission is to allow non-elite children access to the level of competitive soccer typically reserved for elite in Korea. But what I found to be the most interesting part of my visit was learning how Rising Star works to provide rehabilitation for children recovering from leukemia.
The most obvious challenge the children face in their post-recovery rehabilitation is physical. Following their treatment, the children’s bodies are severely weakened. Chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and even the loss of organs have wreaked their damage to the children’s bodies. Some children currently playing with Rising Star are missing a kidney or a lung. They all have different stories, different combinations of chemo and operations. But the end consequence is the same, their bodies are weaker than their peers, who have been able to run and play and develop their physical fitness in the way that these children have not. Soccer lets them build physical endurance, strengthening their muscles, bones, and cardiovascular systems.
In addition to their physical recovery, the children need some psychological rehabilitation as well. As one of the parents explained to me, the children have spent so much time dealing with the disease and their course of treatment that they have been isolated from other children. Their experiences differ widely from what other children have experienced. They haven’t had the opportunities to play, to build confidence, and to develop the interpersonal skills that other children their age have had. Football, being an emphatically team-based sport, helps the children develop their social skills and re-integrate into “normal” society.
Approximately 10 children in Rising Star are recovering leukemia patients. These children play and receive free instruction, and, as I’ve witnessed, can put up quite a fight on the pitch for their peers. Childhood leukemia is tragic. Even those who survive can suffer from long term health complications, and the disease can rob them of their childhoods. Rising Star Football Academy reaches out to these children, and gives them an opportunity to just be kids again.
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