EmbajadorAs: Changing the City by Listening to the Boys and Girls

Translated by Sarah Soliman

The hole left by the demolition of the large manor house in ruins at the height of Embajadores 18 (in front of the Pavón Theater and very close to the church of San Cayetano) is going to become, in a few days, a small urban soccer field with artificial turf and light. The dream of the girls and boys of the Lavapiés neighborhood who play football since 2016 is finally fulfilled. The city council of Madrid and the Atlético de Madrid Foundation have put in place the material means for the transformation, but they have done something even more important: they have listened to children.

To do our part as the football club Dragones de Lavapiés, we understood from the day we obtained permission to organize activities and training on the site, that this space would not escape the influence of the enormous graffiti of “El Rey de La Ruina,” starring a giant woman with two strong hearts and the words of Rosa Luxemburg “socially equal, humanly different and totally free.” From the first minute, we knew that the site was destined to be a space for child participation and feminism.

Only in that space, with the access more limited than in the court of Casino de la Reina, the football activity for girls has been able to develop successfully. Only there the boys and the girls have been able to revive the space: cleaning, weeding, painting … and of course: playing, which is a way of creating.

Nothing has been casual in this process of transformation of the urban space. There are some important milestones that we believe deserve to be pointed out:

The first important step was to go to the town hall to request the use of the space. After two years of training a hundred children, we knew that the need for more play space in the neighborhood was urgent (more so when schools and high schools do not easily share theirs). The councilman of Centro, Jorge García Castaño paid attention to everything we told him and, after studying it, gave us permission to train on the site. In addition, the city council carried out the work in order to smooth the land. The communication with the councilor as well as with the district manager Jesús Martín was both easy and accessible. They understood the project and wanted to support it.

When they told us that they had finished the projects, they gave us the key and, after confirming the finalization of the work, the boys and girls of the children’s and cadet teams (12-14 years old) removed stones with picks, rakes and shovels from the Casino’s garden.
At the end of September 2016, we equipped three Dragones coaches with the goals and nets that the Garage Association (officially space managers for a time) brought us: Babow Jallow, Luis Serrano and his son Andrés used all their expertise and skill to calculate the most appropriate points to place the arches, dig the foundations and sink the goals.

With the cement of the base still unformed, we did our first activity: a science fair with the Pitote Association during which, effectively, the experiments were made with soda. Although Luis had warned us to wait to use the goals, it was impossible to stop the desire to play. Science gave way to football that day and it was very beautiful.


The following weekend, Luis disembarked in the rain in his van with a cousin whom he had just picked up from the airport, coming from Quito and the elements for a new project: with some stakes and red thread he created guides and, later, with a spraycan, he carefully sprinkled the plaster to draw the lines: the field was marked and from then on it was officially possible to play.

Precisely on October 20th, 2016, in Quito, the United Nations conference meeting to establish the Urban Agenda urged local governments to “work together with children, women and vulnerable groups in the decision making process of their city, in order to to have a real participation and so that they can exercise their rights and have access to services.” “The first step for these commitments to be put into practice is for the authorities to listen to the children. Cities must be planned with children in mind, Grant Leaity, UNICEF representative for the Habitat III conference,” said in Quito.

Children from all over the planet have played on the very site that is going to be called “EmbajadorAs,” a play on the Spanish neighborhood Embajadores (Ambassadors) by feminizing the word. There have been training sessions for boys and girls under ten years of age and the Dragons women’s soccer activity.


If something has become evident with the space “Embajadoras” in recent years, it’s clear there has been the lack of sports spaces for children in the neighborhood. The mud thatmade some trainer turn around as soon as they stepped on the site (“I will not come back here,” one told us), has not stopped children or their families, knowing that
the work of cleaning shoes doesn’t compare to the the valuable reality that your children are enjoying the game.

Foto: Jesús Gabaldón

Nor did the lack of light prevent them from coming to train. Although the first two winters were a serious problem, we solved them with a little imagination (especially to guess where the ball rolled) and with solar powered lanterns.

This is how Jesús Gabaldón photographed us when, accompanied by the journalist Chema Caballero, he came to visit us for several weeks for a report on El País supplement “Planeta Futuro:” with two solar lamps to illuminate the goals and with the girls watching behind the windows of the shed that the Construction Platform donated to us in order to store sports equipment. The girls then only played in the co-ed teams of Dragones and there were still a few months left until the purely feminine project arose.

During our second winter of training, the city council put street lamps and lined them to avoid collisions. There was light on site!

Foto: Jesús Gabaldón



The report by Chema Caballero and the photographs of Jesús Gabaldón (“In Lavapiés There Are Dragones”) were an important contribution to the transformation of the space. A new milestone arose: the photographs were a great expressive force and we asked the FARE network (Football against Racism Europe) a scholarship to print them on canvas and make an exhibition.

It was a great joy to receive a positive response and also a new challenge: to organize an exhibition with the photographer Jesús Gabaldón entitled “Here be dragons”.
An Arab tea and again the rain welcomed our friends who attended the inauguration. The newspaper As reported it on their digital television and in the paper edition.

El Lobo Carrasco visited the exhibition. The ex-player of Barça and the Spanish team told us that he liked the space a lot because it was like a theater, with the balconies peeking out and that playing with spectators is something that can help to remove fears that some players have. The photographs and reports that were recorded in this space (Gol TV, CGTN …) have highlighted the importance of the space of coexistence and interculturality created in EmbajadorAs.


The small courts within the cities gather a large community life around them. We assume the tasks of maintenance and cleaning with resignation and with much more
enthusiasm to paint the walls with a uniform color to hang the canvases of the exhibition “Here be Dragons.”

The site has been the perfect place to deliver diplomas, workshops and games (archeology, wheel painting …) and to celebrate our most special tournament: 17 Goals, for the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.


EmbajadorAs received volunteers from the ITO (International Tourism Organization) to mediate the games that were played according to the rules of Streetfootballworld. One of the mediators of the tournament, an expert in Australian sports advertising, Pete Kelly decided to continue collaborating with us. In the last two courses, he trained a group of children during the weekends, spreading enthusiasm, empowerment and leadership.

All Lavapiés entities that are grouped in the Central District Children’s Committee participated in the tournament to publicize the 17 SDGs. Among them, we the Dragones like to highlight goal number 11: sustainable cities and communities. Because in addition to playing soccer, we have global awareness and a commitment to social justice, peace and sustainability.

These basic aspects of the project are part of a universal program: the 2030 agenda of the United Nations. In a symbolic way we have given the balloons with the printed ODS to those people whose help is changing many things, especially politicians. Those of the city council came to the site in November 2017: Celia Mayer, delegate of Gender and Diversity Policies and Jorge García Castaño, councilor of Centro accompanied the president of the Atlético de Madrid Foundation, Adelardo Rodríguez, to announce his support for our project: club rojiblanco helped us with materials (balls and kits) and technical assistance from coaches for several of our groups (about 50 children, approximately one third of the teams). The ball with the icons of the 17 Global Goals for us is a way to thank the help while reminding others and ourselves of the common commitment to build a more sustainable and fair world.


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