Slum Soccer, a Nagpur-based NGO, uses the sport to transform the lives of youngsters from impoverished families. Akshay Madhavan, a volunteer from Chennai, describes how he was drawn to it
Akshay Madhavan was impressed with “Kicking It”, a 2008 documentary by Susan Koch and Jeff Werner that traces the lives of seven youngsters who play in the Homeless World Cup, a soccer tournament that enables the homeless poor to take a shot at the game as well as a meaningful life. When the engineer sought to find out if India sends a team to this annual football tournament, he discovered Slum Soccer.
When he found out that this Nagpur-based NGO uses football as a tool for social empowerment and is responsible for selecting, training and sending an Indian team to the premier championship, Akshay met with youngsters who benefited from the NGO's programmes. They exuded a sense of self-worth that is generally lacking in youngsters from the slums. “Homkanth's story was incredible. He hails from Vidarbha District. Poverty had driven many of his family members to suicide and Homkanth appeared to be scarred for life. While talking, he would not look at people. Slum Soccer infused a new hope in him: he is today the confident young head coach of the organisation,” recalls Akshay.
The inspirational story of how Vijay Barse founded Slum Soccer attracted Akshay to the cause. A physical training teacher of Hislop College in Nagpur, Barse noticed a bunch of children kicking a broken bucket — their makeshift football — in pouring rain. Moved, he gave them a football and was pleased to see their faces glow with joy. He decided to perform this act of mercy on a larger scale. Going to the slums, he invited children to play football every evening at a centre-cum-playground he had carved out of his farm. The majority of the children were from extremely unhappy families — either having a father who was a drug addict or a mother who was a commercial sex worker — and the evening hours they spent at the centre helped give them a semblance of hope and, more importantly, kept them from self-destructive activities.
A special curriculum
Slum Soccer programmes have evolved and become more sophisticated over the last 10 years. It follows a special curriculum, designed by Streetfootballworld, a strategic alliance partner of FIFA that administers the premier organisation's “Football for Hope” programme. It can be barely outlined as a two-hour daily session, where youngsters from the slums play football for one-and-a-half-hours and spend another 30 minutes learning life skills. “The life skills could entail lessons about gender equality, environment or anything that could help the participants lead better lives and behave in a socially responsible manner,” explains Akshay.
Centres in Tamil Nadu
Adoption of scientific methods and affiliation to respected organisations have made Slum Soccer popular and enabled it spread in size and influence. At present, it has centres in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, and an administrative unit in Chennai. On a more intensive expansion mode, it will shortly start centres in Tamil Nadu.
The NGO's poky administrative office at Santhome is engaged in spadework for a slew of new programmes. “After work, all of us come here and spend long hours, attending to paperwork and planning strategies,” says Akshay, who holds a responsible position at Ashok Leyland. “We have a team of around 15 that is absolutely motivated by the spirit of volunteering and a love for football. Two years ago — before I joined Slum Soccer as a volunteer — I wanted to do my MBA, join a business consulting firm and earn the big buck. Now I know greater meaning lies in service.”
In view of the added responsibilities in the future, Slum Soccer seeks to build its volunteer base. For details, call 99629 54494.