From as far back as we can remember, sports has been used as a means to bridge the gap between nations and between people or communities divided by religion, caste, history, etc. A unique initiative is using sport to bridge the gap between people divided by economic barriers in India. Meet Slum Soccer and see how they are bringing about a change!
Most of what we know about soccer begins and ends with the adrenaline rush, the vigor and the matchless entertainment. But there could be and there is more, much more. When the soccer ball gets rolling on field, kicked by the players who are slum dwellers, it takes a whole new meaning. It’s about shrugging off the limitations of poverty; creating and living a priceless new identity. And Slum Soccer, a Nagpur-based NGO, has been proving it time and again.
12 years ago, when Vijay Barse, a retired sports teacher, saw a small bucket being kicked and passed, splashing muddy rainwater all around the diminutive playgrounds of a shanty town, it was a moment of clairvoyance. Vijay saw through the simple joy and fun; he saw a great tool of emancipation in soccer and realized that a sport transforms you when you are on the field. ‘Jhoparrpatti’ football, as it began to be called then, roped in youngsters coming from backgrounds of drug abuse, anti-social activities, conflicts and personal struggles. They all got together for a game of soccer, only to realize that their lives were slowly changing.
For Homkant Surandase, a runaway teenager from an impoverished village where its farmers were committing suicide, stumbling upon Slum Soccer was a sharp turn of destiny. He began to find his self-esteem while he played on the field. His destiny took him all the way to Melbourne to represent India in the Homeless World Cup 2008. He came back with the determination to make change happen in the lives of many who were like him. Homkant today is a coach to street children, slum and shelter dwellers and also single-handedly manages the Slum Soccer in Nagpur.
Now what about the girls in the slum? Their families would rather have them work as maids than play football. Slum Soccer was able to cut through this herculean difficulty of bringing the girl child on to the field and make them great sportspersons. They found few girls, banked on their abilities and helped them find resonance with soccer. The rewarding part is, when one girl gets trained, she goes back to her slum, inspires and brings twenty more girls into the game. And you should know that Slum Soccer’s girls’ team gives a rather tough time to its boy’s team – many unrecorded ‘Chak de’ moments.
Over 6000 players from various slums compete with each other at Slum Soccer tournaments every year. Many play for national level championships and represent India in international tournaments. The impact of such exposure in the lives of these youngsters is huge. Beyond the vital impact of changing the course of their lives, soccer has begun playing internally as well. They are growing up as confident individuals, they are brilliant decision makers, they take up the responsibility of enhancing the livelihood of their families, and they are individuals will look into your eyes and speak confidently. Slum Soccer then conceptualized holistic training to the players – basic hygiene, gender sensitivity, women empowerment, HIV, health issues and much more.
Through Slum Soccer, the players are able to find meaningful employment, jobs in schools and companies. Many of them serve Slum Soccer as trainers – trainers who have themselves experienced the transformation that soccer has brought to them; needless to say that they make excellent trainers.
One person who’s deeply influenced by the cause of Slum Soccer is Vijay’s son, Abhijeet. Abhijeet, a Post Doctorate Fellow, had seen his father working for the cause of Indo-Pak peace, organize motor cycle expeditions to the border to talk peace, encouraging tree planting and then came the idea of transformation through sports. He found that his calling was in the cause of Slum Soccer and left his career in the US to join his father’s mission. Abhijeet says, ‘I could be doing a lot benefiting just me, but through Slum Soccer I’m able to do things that benefit the lives of many’. That’s probably a philosophy that can change the way we do things in our lives.