A shot at a better life their goal, they want to lift India’s game too
They told me I was a girl and it was better for me to learn household skills. Others also went to my parents and asked them why they were allowing me to remain out so late and began questioning my character,” the girl said. “This prompted my parents to beat me and prohibit me from playing,”
But undeterred, Aarti continued going to the stadium and somehow always managed to find a place in the teams playing there. She often missed school to do some warm-up exercises at the stadium, waiting for practice to start. As destiny would have it, Slum Soccer noticed her and it wasn’t long before she found herself in the Haryana team for the national tournament that the NGO held in Mumbai.
The quick-footed girl impressed everyone enough to be given a trail for the Indian team that Slum Soccer was sending for the Homeless World Cup. She will be among the eight girls of similar background in the women’s team. The men’s team too consists of eight players. The match itself, to be played in a temporary arena created at the Zocalo, will have four players per side. Slum Soccer has been sending a team to the World Cup since GLOBAL TOUCH: 2007, and while India has never won the title, its rankings have constantly improved, according to Homkant Surandase, the coach of the Indian squad.
The men’s team is captained by the affable 25-year-old Sarvanan, who lost his home inthe recent floods in Kerala’s Munnar. He used to be a newspaper delivery boy, but has been staying in Nagpur after finding out about Slum Soccer through friends. He started playing the game in Class XI, and having accepted a new purpose in life, hopes to coach slum children in football after his return from New Mexico, so they too can dream of the same opportu- nities that he got.
The women’s team is headed by Jagat Jyoti from Chhattisgarh’s Raipur. The short-cropped 21-year-old is in her final year in Adarsh Government College, and helps her father in the family’s small tea stall after classes. Slum Soccer said that it would help her pursue her post-college studies if she wanted to. Whatever she plans after her Mexico trip, Jyoti is sure of this: she will not only continue playing football, but also help others like her to play.
“The three things that we teach our kids are respect, growth and leadership. This instils a sense of positivity in them,” said Abhijeet Barse, CEO, Slum Soccer. The NGO uses football to empower youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds, offering them livelihood skills and health care. Not surprising a majority of India’s youth who have participated in the Homeless World Cup have returned to better lives and continue to assist slum children on how to empower themselves through football.
Coach Surandase, highlighted what football means to these young people. “The kind of backgrounds these kids come from, they have absolutely no expectations,” he said. “If we can’t provide them with a football, they’ll just roll up polythene bags and play with the make-do balls. And if you tell them they have to travel by sleeper class in trains, it is still a big thing for them. Playing football motivates them to do better in life.
The Indian contingent will leave on Sunday for Mexico City. The tournament, with an expected audience of two lakh people, will hold over 400 fast-paced games of 14 minutes each, divided into two seven-minute halves. There’s television coverage, and for those six days, the problem of homelessness will get some attention — and a slum dweller can have the rare experience of being in the limelight.
Temporary stands will be put up at Mexico City’s iconic Zocalo (city square) for Homeless World Cup