The gravity of a mid-May trip to the Pearl of the Antilles wasn't lost on Manchester University senior Ethan Foster.
Despite missing Graduation 2018 festivities back in North Manchester, the Rushville, Ind., native's opportunity to explore a once hidden gem in the country of Cuba wasn't something he or members of Indiana Futsal could pass up. The group was beckoned to the Central America island to work with the fledgling La Liga En Cuba, a group founded by Iowa native Anton Buri to forward the game of soccer and service as a community engagement device for people around Havana and beyond.
"When Anton got this going, it wasn't even about (soccer)," Foster noted. "He just wanted to immerse himself in Spanish and work with the local children and people to better their environment. As he continued to visit, he had a vision, though, and it dealt with soccer and futsal.
(Futsal) is very big in South America and Europe," he added. "It's due to not having to have much for set up or numbers. You can find any area with nets and have five players a side. It teaches control and awareness with a more weighted ball than in normal soccer. It's faster … being compared to basketball which makes it more accessible."
Buri's vision made its way to the Hoosier State through a connection with one of the Indiana Futsal administrators, according to Foster. "Our director got to talking to him, and he asked us to come (to Cuba) and get things organized for tournaments," he said. "We were brainstorming growing tournaments and getting the word out, as communication is difficult with limited Internet access and technology. The weather made it tricky for our plans, as we eventually had to scrap playing outdoors and use an indoor facility with the government's permission. My role was to schedule the event, which I did a lot of during my internship, and it finally boiled down to two four-hour days with eight men's teams. We'd hoped to have four women's groups in their event, but the weather cancellations forced them to drop out.
"It was impressive (to watch the teams and officials in action)," he added. "We didn't need to do much teaching. There is a lot of different playing expertise but plenty of talent … one of the players was on the Cuban U23 national squad and has been likened to a national prodigy (for futsal). The officials were some of the best we've seen, too. They're so experienced that Indiana Futsal is looking to get them to the Mayor's International Cup tournament in September to train our officials."
Foster mentioned that Buri and Indiana Futsal want to expand their reach to other countries. "I think this will continue to blossom," he said. "There are so many opportunities out there to teach this game and what it can do for community engagement.
"We were all aware of the fact that this was somewhat groundbreaking," he added. "When you think back that ten years ago this type of thing wouldn't have been permitted, it makes you understand how great this possibility was and is."
Beyond the soccer portion of the trip, Foster was struck by a fantastic sense of community in the Havana area.
"It's like nothing I've seen (in the U.S.)," he added. "We weren't sure what to expect, but everyone was welcoming from the time we got there to the time we left. It was especially apparent at the boardwalk around the ocean. People go there to hang out all day and night. We were able to experience this and meet some incredible individuals. One member of our group that loves to rap even joined in one night.
It's a unique city," he added about Havana. "It's so beautiful but yet you can see some rough areas … probably like a lot of places (in the world)."
Exploring a new culture and working with community engagement home and aboard … Ethan Foster is putting his Manchester University education into an experiential mode to make the world a better place.