Over the summer the stars of world football – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar et al – will be battling for the chance to play at the Maracanã stadium in the FIFA World Cup final. But today the stadium hosted a different sort of footballing elite – the players of the Street Child World Cup.
Before they visited the Maracanã the Street Champions also visited Cristo Redentor, one of the world’s most iconic monuments, with stunning views over the whole of Rio.
The trip was a chance for the players to enjoy their time in Brazil, and reflect on how much they had achieved simply by being here. The Street Champions have come from being blamed, ignored and victimised to being the stars of the Maracanã.
Team Argentina’s captain is Daniel, who wants to be a footballer when he is older, and like many Argentinians his dream is to play in the Maracanã for Argentina against Brazil: “I am very proud to be representing my country, and I think it means more for Argentinians to represent their country in Brazil.”
Daniel was only called up to Team Argentina at the last minute. His friend Junior was unable to travel to the tournament because he couldn’t get a passport and Daniel was selected in his place. The circumstances mean he is treasuring the experiences even more:
“On one hand I am very happy because I have been able to come to Brazil, see Cristo and see the Maracana, but I also wish my friend could see them too. Before I joined La Casita I never thought I would be able to do anything like this.”
La Casita is the charity which have organised Team Argentina. It provides an open-door home to boys in Buenos Aires and the city’s suburbs where around 1.5 million children regularly work on the streets to support their families and 14,500 children live without parental care. Since the 1980s, La Casita has provided a child-friendly alternative to the institutionalisation of children.
Benson, captain of Team Kenya, revelled in the experience of being a tourist in Rio: “It was a really amazing experience, because something like this has never happened to me. Before, if someone had told me I was going to be in Brazil doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Because of his experiences of living on the streets, Benson wants to use the opportunities he has earned to help other people battling similar persecution:
“I want to be a lawyer. When I was younger I was sleeping on the streets, and the police found me. They made up a charge, and put me in jail for two months. If I’d have had a lawyer, they couldn’t have done that. So I want to be a lawyer, to help other kids like me.”
The organisation who have brought Team Kenya to the Street Child World Cup is Glad’s House. Sport, and particularly football, is a key part of Glad’s House’s approach to helping children on the streets of Mombasa. The project seeks to reunite children with their families, or to place them in foster homes, and offers an enterprise scheme to equip young people with skills for jobs and for life.
Abdul, a social worker at Glad’s House, thinks the Street Child World Cup can be a formative experience for the Team Kenya players: “This experience will be good for the boys, because they have learned that if you are good and have patience then you will be rewarded. The boys will go home to Kenya and be role models to other children.”
“When ever people come across me they laugh. It seems like my mouth is zipped because they talk for us. I wish they could give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”
“It was a privilege to be invited to the launch of the Street Child World Cup at Downing Street. It gives children a voice through football, sales a platform to express their rights and celebrate their abilities – I’m proud to add my support.”
“I experienced hardcore street life in my youth. I know what it’s like. I congratulate the Street Child World Cup project in it’s commitment to bring attention to the plight of Street Children through the power of football.”