Global Street Kids Stage Their Own World Cup in SA

2010-03-19 09:58

WEARING jerseys in national colours, football teams from eight

countries face off on a South African pitch, in full World Cup fervour. But in

this tournament, the players are all street kids.

Child welfare groups from across the globe brought to Durban teams

from Brazil, England, India, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania and

Ukraine.

It’s the first event of its kind, aiming to grab the football

spotlight to give the children a platform to speak about the poverty and

violence they face on the streets.

“I represent most of the kids who are on the streets. Because, us

street kids, our voice is not heard amongst the people so, we are trying to do

that,” said Ashley Vincent, about the South African team.

He ran away from his family in Johannesburg and made his way to

Durban’s warm coast, where he begs on the sidewalks to survive.

In Durban, street kids complain that police regularly round them up

and take them to a poorly equipped centre outside the city.

“They’re rounding up kids every single day because of 2010,” said

Tom Hewitt, founder of Umthombo, a group that works with street kids in

Durban.

“Street children are not the image people want to see,” he

said.

Police deny that they’re targetting the estimated 400 street kids

in Durban to clean up the city for the World Cup, but say they do intervene when

they receive complaints.

“They sleep outside, in front of people’s houses. At night, they

become a problem,” said police spokeswoman Joyce Khuzwayo.

“Street kids steal when they don’t get enough from begging. They

are hungry,” she said.

“Sometimes, they steal money, bags at the beachfront. People

complain.”

Umthombo helped organise the street kids World Cup, less than three

months before the start of the big event on June 11, to highlight how sports can

help tackle the problem by giving children a reason to get off the

sidewalks.

The teams are competing on a school campus in downtown Durban, with

vuvuzela trumpets blowing in stands filled with wigs and faces painted in

national colours.

The tournament wraps up Sunday with a final and trophy for the

winner.

During the FIFA World Cup, organisers of the children’s event will

set up a surveillance system to reduce the risk of street kids facing abuse

during the month-long event, and to set up sports events to keep them off the

streets.

Many of the children on the pitch have never before left their

hometown.

“I never flew on a plane. I was a bit anxious,” said Rogeria

Sousadossanitos, smiling in her Brazil jersey.

The 16-year-old said she’s been training since October for the

tournament.

“I feel like a winner for being here. If it is possible for me and

my friends, it is possible for other street kids to feel like a winner as well,”

she said.

Children turn to the street when they believe they have no other

options, or sometimes in hopes of begging for money to support their families,

said Eugene Nqadi from Umthombo, which worked with the British group Amos Trust

and Deloitte accounting firm to stage the event.

“If the child has no proper house and no proper care, he can go to

the street to get some money for food, maybe for him and his family,” he

said.

“More than that, there are other (factors) like peer pressure. If a

boy sees his friends on the streets, then he would like to go on the street,”

Nqadi added.

While the children from Britain live in a centre rather than on the

streets, they face the same issues of isolation and poverty as kids from poorer

countries, the organisers say.

“This event is a brilliant one because it gives the dignity to

them, we are recognizing them,” Nqadi said.

“They are people.”


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