Street Child World Cup players get a kick out of being in Brazil

By Luiz Loures

More than 230 children have descended upon the iconic capital of football – Rio de Janeiro in Brazil – for the 2014 Street Child World Cup.

The 10-day tournament brings together teams of street children from 19 different countries to compete for the title of Street World Cup Champions and participate in daily workshops on advocacy and children’s rights.

The teams of boys and girls will play a tournament much like the official World Cup, which begins in June – but the significance of the event stretches far beyond the game of football. 

A World at School spoke to Joe Hewitt, head of the Street Child World Cup Office in Brazil to learn more about the impact the event has had on the lives of the young participants.

All of the teams are convened nationally through established organisations that work with street children. Joe explained that means “at all times, the football is accompanied by social projects aimed at improving the lives of the children. When they join the football teams, the children will at the same time enter into education programmes, art classes, trauma consulting and similar projects.”

The team from India, for example – winners of the 2010 Street Child World Cup in South Africa – are brought together by the Karunalaya Centre in Chennai – an organisation that has reintegrated thousands of street children into their homes and continues to provide shelter, education and sports activities for boys and girls.

The children chosen to represent their countries also serve as role models for the other street children they interact with.

Joe said: “They cannot only be gifted in football. They must also have a positive attitude and show that street children can overcome the many difficulties they face.”

Throughout the tournament in Rio de Janeiro, participatory conferences are held each day after the football matches. The conferences seek to build on the capacity of the children to take control of their own destiny and become leaders.

Along with professional social workers, the children will tackle issues such as children’s rights and undergo workshops to help overcome trauma. These conferences have a profound impact on those involved and Joe believes many of them will indeed become powerful advocates for street children.

Although more basic than the advocacy skills promoted by the daily conferences, the sense of belonging and normality offered to all those involved with the Street Child World Cup may be the organisation’s single most powerful impact.

As Joe pointed out: “These children are often out of school, not living in family homes and rarely follow any sort of routines. The Street Child World Cup uses the power of football to bring them in to social programmes that can offer them a sense of normalcy in their lives and prepare them for a future away from the streets.”

Street child or not, it certainly is not normal to fly across the world as a teenager to play in a football tournament. But oddly enough, a sense of normalcy is exactly what the Street Child World Cup brings to the children involved.

The greatest impact of the Street Child World Cup, along with raising awareness and changing perceptions, is to allow thousands of street children in every continent to transform their lives and take control of their destiny.