Football is revered worldwide, whether it’s called soccer or if a tin can is substituted for the actual ball. It is respected, revered. It also heals.
Vijay Barse was a sports teacher at a local college who stumbled upon street children kicking a broken bucket around. It was a beautiful game, as illustrated before his eyes.
That day, he visited 16 slums and invited them to play together in teams. He started Slum Soccer in 2011 as a non-profit based in Nagpur, to help children of the slums, commercial sex workers, homeless, orphans, and improves their lives through football.
From weekend sessions and football camps, he estimates that Slum Soccer has reached out to 70,000 men and women and children in 63 districts in India.
Participants are given football lessons, basic education and awareness on health, gender equality, HIV/AIDS and the environment.
They are also encouraged to get involved in the arts and crafts, and they have access to counselling and nutritionists, he says in this interview.
The national team participated in the Homeless World Cup. Girls are especially encouraged to play. An Indian woman on their team, Disha Lohabare, won the 2008 best female player award.
Here’s a docu-fiction by Mauritius-based director, Aatish Basanta. It retells Vijay’s story, with a pitch that ascends to a glorious song and dance about football:
What are the lives of these children like, before football?
Head coach Homkant Surandase lived in a farming region that had high suicide rates. It sounds extreme. It’s grim and widespread epidemic in farming states in India, when farmers are not able to face the shame of accumulated debts, and are at the mercy of market fluctuations.
Homkat was a dropout. He and his friends played on the streets, with a makeshift goalposts. “Two posts with a rope tied to the top,” he says. His father was not impressed by his new hobby. He threatened suicide if Homkat didn’t get a job.
Finding football and Slum Soccer changed that:
Homkant coached Indian teams at the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris and again in 2013 in Poland. He’ll be at this year’s Homeless World Cup at Santiago, Chile, in October.
“One day we will win the World Cup, don’t worry about that,” he said. “Right now we want to change their lives.”