Street children unite

2014-03-22 00:00

EIGHTEEN former street children from around Durban will be putting their football skills on display when they represent South Africa as the Young Stars at the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, being played ahead of this year’s Fifa World Cup.

The event will be held from March 27 to April 7 and the children, who are flying out early next week, will spend two weeks in Brazil.

Mpendulo Nyembe, director of Umthombo, an NGO that works with street children helping them to move away from the streets and reclaim their lives, said the tournament is part of a global movement for street children that seeks to give them the care and opportunities to which all children are entitled. “It unites former street children from across five continents to play football, produce art and participate in a unique international conference.”

Nineteen countries will participate in the tournament — South Africa, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Mauritius, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Liberia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, U.S., Zimbabwe, Liberia, Egypt, England and Brazil.

Nine countries took part when the tournament was launched four years ago in Durban ahead of the World Cup.

“We found these children through our outreach programme,” said Nyembe. “Their trip to Brazil is not only about the soccer tournament, they are also going there to attend a conference to develop their skills and to become ambassadors of street children.”

There are various reasons that children end up on the streets, said Nyembe. “It might be that they go to beg in order to help at home or they are not coping at school. Alcohol abuse by parents is another culprit because it sometimes leads to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.”

Consent was granted to interview and take photographs of these young ambassadors at a Durban hotel on Thursday.

Ntombenhle Nzama cannot wait to board that flight to Brazil. The bubbly 16-year-old Grade 10 girl from Inanda spent two weeks on the streets of Durban after escaping from home due to ongoing alcohol- inflamed fights between her parents.

“My parents hurt me so much,” she said, becoming emotional as she told her story. “My heart is broken so much — I wish I could do something to help them stop drinking.”

Umthombo took Ntombenhle home but after seeing the conditions there the officials decided to arrange a foster family for her in Inchanga so that she can experience being part of a normal family.

“I visit my parents often,” said Ntombenhle. “I miss them. But I’m focusing on my studies and I’m positive that when I finish my studies I will get employment. I’ll buy my parents a big house so that we can stay together as a family. I pray that they change their ways.”

When Umthombo learnt from Ntombenhle’s school that she loves soccer, they put her into the team. She said she would use the opportunity to go to Brazil to learn more about how the children over there are affected by parental fights and how they deal with them.

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