By Joe Hewitt
“Sometimes it is hell on the streets but when I play football I feel as if I’m in heaven.” Thamires, Brazil.
Football is accessible even to those who have the least in this world, providing street children around the globe with fun, hope, companionship and confidence for a brighter future away from the streets.
In South Africa in 2010, street child organisations from eight countries came together to compete in the inaugural Street Child World Cup. Alongside the football, the street children produced the Durban Declaration through which they appealed to governments, civil society and the United Nations with one message: “We do not want to stay on the streets. It is not a good thing for children to live on the streets.” This helped ensure real change in the way street children are seen and treated in South Africa – a legacy of the world cup that survives today. This week saw the Street Child World Cup challenge pass to Brazil.
Seven members of the Brazil squad who took part in South Africa 2010 came to London last week to share their stories and to launch the journey to Brazil in 2014. Here is a little film of their visit during which they were warmly welcomed by the football community: they led the guard of honour at QPR v Swansea, greeted the teams for Arsenal v Wigan and met the Tottenham squad, most notably the Brazilian midfielder Sandro at a Spurs’ training session. These teams and players also want to draw attention to the issue of street children and make a difference. On their final night they were guests of the Brazilian Embassy where they spoke about the situation for street children in Brazil and demanded that more be done.
With the help of the Sao-Paulo based project Quixote, each one of these seven children has now left the streets and is in full-time education or work pursuing dreams of becoming social workers, lawyers, teachers and of course footballers! There were, however, three members missing as they continue the long road to leave the streets, and this was a reminder of the work still to be done.
At lease 16 teams will take part in Brazil in 2014 and they represent the millions of children who live and work on the streets across the world vulnerable to many forms of abuse. They have limited access to the protection and opportunities that all children are entitled to. This issue is truly global, affecting every country although, of course, the situation is much worse in some countries than in others and the global community has yet to face up to what amounts to the neglect of children on a massive scale.
This is a campaign for change through football that presents street children not as a hopeless cause but as young people with great dignity, highlighting the potential of every single one and helping societies to see them for what they are; children. We are reminded of the old adage: “the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members”.
The road to Rio has begun. Over the next two years, there will be a number of international events to raise awareness of the event in 2014. Whoever you are, you can make a difference wherever you are. Please visit www.streetchildworldcup.org to find out more and to join our supporters’ club.
Joe Hewitt, Street Child World Cup.