In Peru, a soccer field unites the slum community | The larger picture

Nueva Union has no running water, electricity grid connection or paved roads.

But the neighborhood has something that makes life in a Peruvian slum more bearable: a soccer field.

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Edgar Champi works in his carpentry.

Residents of Nueva Union, mostly migrants from impoverished Peruvian provinces, dug a flat glade to play soccer in the dusty hillside when they settled in Lima about 15 years ago.

“It was a hill. It was not like today. But with nothing but our determination, we started to dig. Why? To have something to distract us every Sunday”, explains Edgar Champi, 40 years old, resident of Nueva Union. .

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Players are resting after playing football.

The grassless football pitch – like dozens of similar makeshift pitches across the country – is testament to Peru’s love of the game as its side prepare to contest the World Cup for the first time since 1982.

“It’s pure happiness!” 54-year-old grandmother Luisa Alcantara talks about the national team. “When they score a goal, even the tables shake.”

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

The men are playing football.

World Cup fever has brought new excitement to matches played at the Nueva Union ground, which overlooks the capital of some 10 million people.

Shaking off clouds of dust and shouting nicknames at each other – “Noodle!” “Baby Face!” “Small !” – Champi and other men scramble to score goals as women sell chicha, a traditional drink made from purple corn, to the crowd that has gathered to watch.

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

A resident of the Nueva Union slum buys water from a tanker truck.

Like the Peru team, Nueva Union is an outsider – home to families working hard to build a better future with little help from the authorities.

Lacking access to basic public services, residents of Nueva Union must pay a premium for water sold by private trucks, which often suspend deliveries when the roads become too slippery to climb in winter. Electricity is provided by connections to a nearby neighborhood, which also charges higher rates.

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Children repair a soccer ball.

Victor Antonio Cordoba, 32, the neighborhood’s main sports organizer, says the Nueva Union soccer field keeps residents healthy and happy. The star players of the Peru team all come from disadvantaged neighborhoods, he points out.

“Who knows, maybe future talent will come from here,” says Cordoba. “Without a field, we won’t know.”

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Nueva Union slum residents Martha Injusta (left) and Leydi Condor play volleyball.

From Monday to Saturday, when most of the men in the neighborhood are working, the women play soccer or volleyball on the field. “We let the men play on Sundays,” Alcantara said with a laugh.

Martha Injusta, 49, a mother of two who cleans for a living, credits the space with helping her get back in shape. “Before, I was really chubby,” she says.

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Leydi Condor washes her clothes outside her home.

The field is the closest thing to a town square in Nueva Union. This is where the community celebrates carnival in the traditional Andean way, dancing around a tree laden with gifts. It is a place to gossip with neighbors and the designated safe place to gather in the event of an earthquake.

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Stairs, used by residents of the Nueva Union slum to get to their homes

As darkness gathers and a game ends, a voice over a loudspeaker set up next to the pitch reminds residents to help build a new staircase to ease the steep climb to their homes.

Other projects are on the horizon: a retaining wall to protect against landslides, a community center for meetings, cement and new netting for the soccer field.

“Of course we will improve it,” says Roger Loayza, a 32-year-old mechanical technician, of the football pitch. “It used to be a hill, but now we have something.”

. Lima, Peru. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Men play football on an improvised football pitch.