Street children find hope in football

23 March 2010

Durban may be a host city for the upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup™, but last week it hosted a football tournament with a difference, with street children from eight countries congregating in the coastal city to battle it out against each other.

Vincent Khumalo (16) ran away from home in Johannesburg when he developed a drinking and smoking habit that led him to thieving. After roaming the streets of Durban, he was introduced to the Umthombo Foundation, where he started playing football. Today he plays for the South African street child team, and dreams of becoming an engineer.

Vincent is just one of over 100 children from eight countries, including India, Brazil, Tanzania, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Philippines, the UK and South Africa, that took part in the first ever seven-a-side Street Child World Championship at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in Durban from 15 to 21 March.

The week-long tournament, organised by UK Human Rights organisation Amos Trust, followed the groundbreaking work of the Durban-based Umthombo Foundation and was a celebration of the potential of street children, if they’re given a chance.

Football changing lives

And with the World Cup around the corner, it served as an example for South Africa of how football can change lives.

The championship has elicited significant attention and support, with former England Captain David Beckham, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko among those who officially endorsed the event as a means to provide a platform for the rights of street children to be heard.

According to Tom Hewitt, CEO of Umthombo, the world championship was created as a way of getting the plight of street children into the public arena.

“Street children across the globe remains a peripheral issue with regards to development, and we thought that this could be a platform to bring the issue out into the mainstream as a development issue.”

Hewitt said that the decision to host the tournament in South Africa came as a result of the country playing host to the Fifa World Cup in South Africa. He added that the Championship is to happen every four years, with the next one to be held in Rio de Janiero in Brazil in 2014.

‘Our stories are alike’

Vincent Khumalo really enjoyed the tournament experience. “Meeting these other children helps me a lot because our stories are alike,” Khumalo said. “I also think to myself that if I get a second chance, I must go back to school, and not make the same mistakes I made.”

Street child Dennis David (15) from Tanzania said that he never imagined there would be street children in other parts of the world. The small lad said the tournament showed people that street children are capable.

“People normally look at street children and think they can do nothing … but this tournament will show that we can do amazing things. I want to become a professional footballer and play for Tanzania one day at the World Cup … and win it,” he said with a smile.

David ran away from home after suffering abuse from this stepmother, but counsellors have been working to get him to reintegrate with his family, and he is due to rejoin his family after the tournament.

Marsh Sylvestres, who coaches the Tanzanian street child team and who also coaches the Tanzanian U17 team, agreed that football helped their shattered confidence.

“Now they are able to look at the future and they feel they’re human beings,” Syvestres said.

Source: 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Organising Committee