The story of Samantha, who represented England, at the Street Child World Cup.
I spent most of my childhood just outside of north London, I lived and breathed sport. My school team reached the national finals for netball, and I loved to swim as well. But I didn’t start playing football until I was about 14, and for me, that is where my journey began.
Growing up, I had many hurdles. I had a ‘glue ear’ for quite some time, and an eye tumour, which significantly affected my learning and development. But it made me work extra hard for everything and taught how important it was to persevere at the face of hardship.
After achieving 11 GCSE’s, I decided that I didn’t want to continue with my studying. Instead, I wanted to pursue my love for the game.
I was accepted onto an Arsenal programme within their community. I studied a BTEC in sport alongside coaching and playing – it was ideal for me.
Once I started the course it was like a catalyst, full of opportunities to learn and develop. Whilst studying at Arsenal I met the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.
At this point, I was identified as vulnerable to going down the wrong path. So, I started attending their female-only sessions, I loved the inclusivity, I felt like I belonged.
Week by week my confidence grew, and I was starting to talk about the problems that I was facing at the time.
Whether it was to do with my struggles with mental health, being bullied or my grandad attempting to take his own life, Centrepoint helped me channel my emotions and enhance my coping skills, as well as developing me as a footballer and as a person too.
Little did I know that this would lead to greater things…Street Child World Cup.
After training with Centrepoint for a few months, I was lucky enough to have been accepted onto their Team England squad. They had three main teams, one group would be selected for the u18’s Street Child World Cup, the second would be chosen to go to Portugal a tournament with Braga, Lisbon, Belgium and Mexico, and the third would be going to the Homeless World Cup.
I was full of elation when they told me that I was selected to represent Team England, as this meant that I would be going to St. Georges Park – the home of English football.
Whilst I was there for the first training camp, they announced their squad for the u18’s Street Child World Cup. My name was called, and I stepped forward.
And just like that, I was going to Russia for the Street Child World Cup.
A Street Child World Cup is a tournament where street-connected children come together to celebrate their hardship and fight together to provide social change in their communities. The tournament taught that sport is more than physical activity, sport can create a movement. Sport can provide social change.
Andile, who played for South Africa at the very first Street Child World Cup in 2010, said: “When people see us by the streets, they say that we are street boys. But when they see us playing football, they say that we are not the street boys – they say we are people like them.”
The Street Child World Cup for me was a rollercoaster of emotions. Alongside England there was 23 other countries and teams, all participating for different reasons. But we all had one key element in common, we wanted to provide social change in our countries, we were all connected as we were all stigmatised as being street-connected.
A Street Child World Cup is made up of three different parts, the sporting competition, the arts and the congress sessions. I was lucky enough to have been representing my country, but for me, the most important part of the tournament was not the sport – it was the congress.
During the congress sessions we would speak about different problems that we faced within our communities. When I talk about the Street Child World Cup, I always say that instantly I became an adult. I was exposed to extreme poverty like never before. The adverts you see on the television, of children walking miles upon miles to collect water, now became reality – I could see first-hand the trauma they had been through.
Street-connected children are especially vulnerable to victimisation, exploitation and the abuse to their civil and economic rights. It is impossible to place a figure of how many street-connected children, partly because they are forced to move around due to threats of imprisonment, but also because the majority of street-connected children do not have their own passports, or birth certificates.
For these children to come to the event, they had to overcome a huge amount. In order for them to receive a passport, they had to have a birth certificate. In order for them to have a birth certificate their parents must have passports; the cycle is ongoing.
The founder of Street Child United, John Wroe, said to me that: “The whole world conspires with us to make the Street Child World Cup happen”. His message imprinted on me, countless families now have a passport because of the Street Child World Cup. Countless families now have an identity because of Street Child United, and their partner organisations.
In the congress session Team England was paired up with Team India, not only was we on different sides of the world, but it felt like our situations were galaxies apart. The girls from Team India, were sleeping on cardboard boxes, they were sleeping inches away from busy roads. Sport to them gave them hope, and now it had given them a platform and an opportunity to share their story.
Off of the back of the Street Child World Cup, I struggled with my emotions significantly. These children who were now my friends, returned to their countries. I was very conflicted, on one hand I was over the moon as I had captained England to third place in the playoffs (better than what the men had done that year, and better than the Lionesses!), but on the other I couldn’t stop thinking about my friends going back and living on the streets.
Homelessness is a problem faced by millions around the round, most are born into poverty, at no fault of their own. Change needed to happen, but I was not sure how I could play my part.
We Are All Somebody
To thank Street Child United, I wrote a poem that spoke of my experiences, it also helped me a huge amount to cope with my mixed feelings.
I didn’t realise how powerful the poem was, I didn’t realise that it could educate others on the change that needs to happen to support street-connected children around the world.
So, after showing the staff at Street Child United and hearing their responses, I surprised myself. I didn’t know that I could create something that was powerful, something that could help others.
I thought to myself: writing, drawing, or being creative could help others, and especially my new friends release their emotions. What if I could create a book that is full of voices from all around the world, people’s stories, their vulnerabilities, and their dreams. The book would be full of hope and truth. It can be used as a tool to remind others that when all may lost, there is hope, and it can be used to educate others.
I began to reach out to the partner organisations, who had participated in the previous tournaments organised by Street Child United. I also reached out to the Consortium for Street Children, who shared with their partner organisations. The project just grew and grew, and it made me more motivated and inspired to carry on my work, and to share their voices.
I envisioned this book back in September 2018, so to see it now is incredible. I have worked hard on ensuring that the book carries the right message, the message of hope.
Thank you so much for taking time to read my story, and if you are facing your own challenges, remember: We Are All Somebody, and you are never alone.
I want to thank Street Child United, for believing in me and this crazy idea. Thank you to my family for always supporting me and being a shoulder to lean on. Thank you to the Fly on the Wall, for being the best publishers and bring my vision to life. And a very special thank you to Lucas, you believed in this dream of mine, even when I had lost hope myself, you do an incredible amount of work behind the closed doors to help young people like me have their dreams fulfilled.
You can pre-order the book now by visiting: https://www.flyonthewallpress.co.uk/product-page/we-are-all-somebody-street-child-united-anthology .
The book will also be stocked by Waterstones and Amazon.