How football can create a safe space for the world’s most vulnerable young people

13 December 2018 | Social Responsibility
How football can create a safe space for the world’s most vulnerable young people
Three football pitches, in three very different parts of the world, give street-connected young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential

The hill of Caracol, Rio de Janeiro, is home to around 8,000 inhabitants, who face daily street violence between drug traffickers and the police. Children in Caracol live in basic favela housing sharing a bedroom with up to 10 family members. Poverty and social exclusion in Caracol have led to violence, family breakdown, health issues, sub-standard education, unemployment, addiction and involvement in drug trafficking. Children in Caracol attend school for at most four hours a day and spend a large amount of time on the streets, which is not a safe environment for them to develop.

On the “shoulder” of Caracol, out of reach of potential gunfire, sits an all-weather football pitch, built by Street Child United Brazil (SCUB, known locally as Família Caracol). As part of the build, SCUB negotiated an agreement with both the Police and drug traffickers to not fight at the pitch.

SCUB support three coaches from the favela communities who have received training from Coaches Across Continents and the United Nations to create and run daily training and education sessions. At SCUB girls and boys from Caracol can play football and attend personal development themed workshops supporting their welfare, education and training for work.

Rafaela, 16 years old, who plays at the SCUB pitch, says the programme demonstrates the power of football to help young people fulfil their potential: “One day when I thought about giving up, SCUB opened a door and welcomed me in. It is one of the ways I hide from the bad things happening in my life, or rather, to face my problems.”

Up to 300 children have access to SCUB’s program with an average of 45 children taking part every day. There are an equal number of girls and boys. Participation supports each child in their personal development, focusing on reducing their risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, developing vital life skills and improving education, training and employment opportunities. Through football and team-building activities the program specifically addresses conflict resolution and gender equality issues highlighted by the Neighborhood Association and the children themselves.

SCUB is a registered Brazilian charity, founded by international charity Street Child United, to support the delivery of the Street Child World Cup 2014. Following the Street Child World Cup, SCUB was approached by GM Chevrolet to build a football field in an area where it would be of most value to young people. The pitch was built in 2015, in partnership with GM Chevrolet, and opened by FIFA World Cup winner and Arsenal invincible Gilberto Silva.

Similar projects around world demonstrate football’s ability to provide opportunities for young people who have had the most difficult of barriers put in the way of their personal development.

In Cairo, Egypt, a social enterprise called NAFAS runs a Street Football League, with similar aims to SCUB. NAFAS’ goal is to rehabilitate marginalised youth through sport and reintegrate them into society. The Street Football League runs from January until July and engages more than 320 young men and 100 young women from different backgrounds; rough sleeping, supported shelters and living in impoverished neighborhoods.

NAFAS partners with Local NGO’s that specialise in rehabilitation of marginalised youth. These organisations’ offer shelter, access to education, access to jobs, medical assistance, issuance of identification documentation and outreach programs. The sports projects managed by NAFAS plays an important role in complementing these services and providing a healthy medium for these NGO's to offer their services.

In Payatas, one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines, Fairplay For All runs the Payatas Sports Centre, where over 100 young people have a space to play. Payatas Sports Centre is an engagement tool for Fairplay For All’s other services: the first Democratic School in the Philippines, where students who dropped out of school are empowered to develop their social, emotional, and academic lives and have a say in their learning paths and the Fairplay Cafe, hiring local mothers to cook affordable, healthy, and delicious meals in the community.

Fairplay's mission is to level the playing field for vulnerable young people - they believe that many of the Philippines’ social problems, like homelessness, children on the streets, and poverty in general, are cheaper to solve than to manage in the long-run. Roy Moore, a 30-year-old Brit who has been living in the Philippines for the last eight years and is Executive Director of Fairplay For All, says: “Given just how much they contribute when we listen to their voices and empower their actions, we all win when we show we care for the poorest among us.”

All three of these organisations, plus 15 others from countries across the world, came together in Moscow in May for the Street Child World Cup 2018 - an event using football to campaign for the rights and protection of street-connected young people. On the pitch, 12 girls teams and 11 boys teams played at Lokomotiv Moscow, the Russian Premier League Champions, in tournaments won by Brazil Girls and Uzbekistan Boys.

Off the pitch, the young people took part in a human rights campaign and arts festival. The world’s media, politicians, business leaders and the global football community came to hear from the young people what changes need to be made so all children can fulfil their potential. Through taking part in the Street Child World Cup, all teams received significant media coverage and seven teams were able to take their messages directly to their governments.

Islam played for Team Egypt (NAFAS) at the Street Child World Cup Moscow 2018. He said: “I learnt that we are only different in languages and where we are from but at the end we are all the same and we are all one. It was a lot of fun and I made a lot of new friendships. My highlight from Moscow was visiting the historical areas and the center of the city. This was special because being in such a different and grand place was completely new to me.”

Roy Moore said the Street Child World Cup added value to the services Fairplay For All offers young people: 'Throughout the preparation the girls gave their best and learned so much on and off the pitch. It was great to see them tackle really intense subjects in addiction, childhood trauma, and more in our workshops and seminars ahead of the Street Child World Cup.

“The young people were so motivated and learnt a lot about their communities and the root causes of why children end up on the streets and why children experience such things in communities across the country. A lot of the girls saw children around the world have gone through similar experiences, and that many countries faced the same problems as they do back in the Philippines. What will be great to see is what comes next. With everything before and during the Street Child World Cup, we are very interested to see what tangible impact can come afterwards.”

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