Mary Cruz is from Yaracuy State in Venezuela. Yaracuy has gained acclaim over the years for producing many of the country’s top national athletes. Physical education at the primary school level has contributed significantly as a catalyst for the development of sport at a state level, as it has always been holistically integrated into the Venezuelan curriculum.
Mary was first introduced to the fundamentals of volleyball at age eight during a PE class, and there began her love for sport. At age 15, she was selected to represent her state team, and at 18 she became the first person in her family selected to represent Venezuela internationally in the sport of volleyball.
She spent three years as a member of the national women’s volleyball team competing regionally and internationally against Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru.
Professionally, she is a public accountant, and previously worked for the Instituto de Cultura de Estado Portuguesa.
While working in her chosen profession, she moonlighted as a volleyball coach and began working with children 7–13 years conducting clinics to help them develop the fundamental skills of the sport. She even became the vice president of her state’s Sport Council.
Today, Mary Cruz, 46, lives with her two children ages 6 and 22, having arrived in Trinidad in November 2018. She still manages to maintain a healthy lifestyle in Trinidad, and she works out with a group of eight comprising locals and Venezuelans who complete a 2.5km run daily from her home to a nearby stadium. Mary states emphatically “mente sana, cuerpo sano (healthy mind, healthy body).”
Although she has not been able to exercise her profession as an accountant locally, Mary is eager to use her sporting background within her community. She notes that she has been working with friends to mobilise children in her community to participate in volleyball. However, where she resides there are more cricket fields than available courts to practise volleyball.
Mary believes that children who are migrants and refugees have opportunities to participate in sports locally, that school should always be the first option to engage in sporting activities, simply because of the amount of time spent there.
If children begin in school, they begin to develop the passion and desire to continue to improve in their sport.
“When sport is introduced as part of a child’s development from the earliest stages it guarantees a minimisation of the tendency towards living a sedentary lifestyle.” With the constant incorporation of technology in their daily lives, Mary says that children who play sports tend to have fewer addictive tendencies, and learn the importance of developing discipline, confidence, motor skills, and emotional intelligence. “When that child grows up, they have an innate understanding of the benefits of taking care of their body.”
The Hispanic community has begun to mobilise in different parts of Trinidad to ensure that their children can participate in sport. Mary Cruz believes that sport is a key factor in allowing children who have from very young ages had to deal with trauma—a dangerous boat trip, a new country, a new language, loss of the familiar.
It is a way to integrate into the host community with children from Trinidad and Tobago through various sports. For example, Mary notes the popularity of cricket here and its similarity to softball, a popular sport in Venezuela. “We make attempts to learn, to integrate with the local culture through sport.”
For the future she intends to learn as much as she can wherever she resides, and learning English is her top priority. She hopes to help many children participate in sport locally, and desires that her children be healthy, and happy.
Venezuelans are grateful to Trinidad for opening its doors, Mary suggests, “even though we may not always be able to work in our trained professions, it is my desire to contribute with my background and experience in any capacity where I can serve.”
Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.