Street Child United – empowering youth affected by the streets through sport

Street Child United host a parallel World Cup to support to young people affected by homelessness 

 

When both teams celebrate 

It wasn’t the most intimidating shotThe ball was dribbled towards the goal line and hit just hard enough to cause confusion, getting the keeper to miss it rolling past their feet. A goal is a goal though, and the lucky scorer jumped with enthusiasm and began to run around the field in the typical fashion. Untypically, however, they ended up running into the embrace of an equally enthusiastic opposing team’s defender. 

When you think about children associated with the streets, joy and enthusiasm tend to get lost in the statistics of abuse, intolerance and violence that are also associated with street life. Yet the youth that participated in the 2014 Street Child World Cup, all of who have experienced life on the streets, had nothing but joy exuding from them as they celebrated goal after goal, no matter which team did the scoring. The event, put on by Street Child United (SCU), wasn’t as much about the football as it was about giving these youth an opportunity to be heard. 

Tackling homelessness

Over 150 million children worldwide are estimated to live, work or spend the majority of their time on the streets. Vulnerable to crime and abuse, Street Child United seeks to empower street associated children, in order to help these young people recognise their full potential, while also giving them something they are often stripped of; visibility.

Along with the tournament, the organisation runs a Congress for Street Children that serves to educate the effected young people on their rights, as well as give them a safe space to share their experiencesRunning the events just before major sporting events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, allows Street Child United to bring the world’s focus onto the plight of children associated with the streets.

Joining the campaign

Molly King joined the board of Street Child United – USA, the US branch of the organisation, as soon as it was created. “It’s about giving these young people a voice, so we can make a greater impact for children everywhere,” she says. 

King currently lives in Portland, OR and, as an avid soccer fan, has season tickets to both the women’s and the men’s professional teams. She began volunteering with Street Child United after seeing an advert during the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Within hours of seeing the ad she had signed up to help with the first ever Street Child Games. She worked on the communications team for the event that took place in March of 2016 in Rio, just ahead of the Olympic Games. “My experience at the Games left me completely inspired and when the opportunity came around for me to continue to stay involved, I jumped at it.

Sports’ impact 

The organisation was formed after the observation of the treatment of the street children in South Africa, who were routinely rounded up and incarcerated by the local authorities without cause.These jailings only increased after it was announced that South Africa would host the World Cup in 2010. Working with local charities that were already seeking to improve the conditions of street children, the inaugural Street Child World Cup took place in Durban South Africa in 2010 with eight countries participating. Since then SCU has expanded their work, while continuing to develop plans for the participating young people and keeping the issues they face in the world’s view. 

Having witnessed the incredible impact sport has in creating change King believes strongly in their mission“We hope to challenge the way societies perceive and treat these young people and we hope that the young people competing go back to their respective countries with the tools and confidence to inspire others at risk of or suffering homelessness, to fight for their rights.”

Effecting real change

King went on to talk about a success story from the Street Child World Cup in 2014 who is also featured on their website. Drika was raised in severe poverty in northern Brazil by her grandmother. After her grandmother passed away she was forced into sleeping on couches until her Aunt eventually took her in. After getting connected with the Favela Street Foundation, a local organisation that works with young people in the fevelasDrika’s life began to change. 

Drika

Favela Street was asked to form a team to represent Brazil in the Street Child World Cup and Drika was named captain. Although she did help lead her team to the final, where they beat the Philippines 1-0, her success came after the competition. King explained, “Now she’s a soccer coach working with children at risk of living on the streets in Rio. She helps hundreds of children each year play sports and develop life skills, reducing their risk of exploitation and abuse.

Building a lasting legacy

Eliminating the negative cycle that street children are often caught up in is a major part of Street Child United’s agenda. Each country that participates in the SCU World Cup has a team that is formed of local youth organisations. These local organisations are chosen by SCU and agree to set up development plans with each young person involved. Members of each of the national teams are also chosen from young people that benefit from the local services rather than their athletic abilities. These measures ensure that the main focus of the event is on street children’s rights.

Things have come far for the Street Child World Cup since 2010. A host of high profile ambassador’s, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Alex Scott of the English Women’s National Team and Michael Johnson former US track star, have all supported their efforts. Besides the increased coverage, participation has grown.

Now 22 countries will head to Russia in 2018. The current list includes: Russia, Belarus, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Philippines, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Uganda, USA and Zimbabwe. 

Russia 2018

Recently returning from Moscow for the Street Child World Cup Summit, King talked about the preparation for the event to be held in May. Street Child United does everything they can to help ensure that the young people, team leaders, staff and volunteers feel comfortable and supported attending events.” 

King also spoke enthusiastically about their local partner in Russia saying: The 2018 Street Child World Cup will be presented with Moscow’s leading telecom provider MegaFon, which is very exciting and encouraging as they have been running a soccer tournament for orphans since 2005.

With less than a year until their event Street Child United continues to focus on creating a positive space for street children to realise their full potential. With very little say in their own circumstances the theme song from the Street Child Games in Rio was, I am Somebody. A song meant to express their rights to housing, clothing, food, and the basic right of to be treated with dignity. 

Russia 2018 will be King’s first SCU World Cup event and thinking back to her experiences in Rio, she can barely wait to get there. “Hearing the young people chant I am Somebody’ in unison, as ambassadors from every country all with linked arms on the running track at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio as the Games came to a close, is something I’ll never forget.” 

Even more impressive to King is that the message was spread: Knowing that the young people have carried that same moving message back home, inspiring others living on the streets to fight for their own rights, and for society to support them, made me truly understand that this event was so much more than just games.

There are still volunteer opportunities available for the event in Russia available on the Street Child World Cup website as well as other information on how you can get involved. 

You can follow Megan on Twitter at @mcmbegs

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