Homeless World Cup Foundation and Slum Soccer use football for a larger goal — development of the under privileged

“I've got a surname that fits in with my job,” says Deborah Ball, a community worker who utilises football to further social goals. Andy Hook and Scott Hollinshead smile and nod in agreement. The three Scots work for the Homeless World Cup Foundation, which partners with groups in 74 countries that serve underprivileged youngsters through programmes centred round the sport of football.

The three are in India to pass on the mantle of leadership. Over the years, they have tracked the progress of a group of youngsters — identified by Slum Soccer — and offered help in grooming them into trainers. “By becoming coach educators, these youngsters are now stepping into our shoes,” explains Deborah.

In a Slum Soccer coach recruitment drive that ends on March 5, seven members of this group — Homkanth, Akhilesh, Amol, Ujwala, Rubina, Priyanka and Sneha — demonstrate their training skills at the Vita Life Clinic Ground in Kottivakkam on East Coast Road. They impart life skills to division-level football players in the hope of turning them into volunteers for Slum Soccer in Chennai.

The Scots entertain no doubts about the seven's ability to inspire others to take up their brand of voluntary work. In 2008 — when Andy Hook came to India to assist Slum Soccer — he found Homkanth painfully shy. “He would stand in last row, but was very attentive,” recalls Hook. End of the year, Andy met Homkanth at the Homeless World Cup in Melbourne and was surprised to note that the boy's personality had undergone a sea change. “It was clear that he was getting better at interacting with people,” says Andy.

While they think of Homkanth as he is now, their faces crease into broad smiles. “Earlier, he will not look me in the eye. Now, he teases us relentlessly,” explains Deborah.

It is such stories of transformation that encourage the three Scots to continue with this line of social service. As a football coach, Andy passes on his skills. Scott has played a bit of football but his strength lies in sports science and he prepares youngsters to play this high-energy sport without sustaining injuries. With a rich experience of working with youths in distress, Deborah serves with a rare tenderness.

All three are adept at adapting the Foundation's life skill programme to local sensibilities. Deborah however says switching between cultures does not require great imagination. “There is little difference between the children in the shunt towns of Buenos Aires and the children in the slums of India. No matter what caused their problems, the effect is the same. All of them live in poverty and are marginalised,” she says. “Everywhere in the world, we see the same thing. Football has an incredible convening power. When you throw a football, people come to you.”

Abhijeet Barse, chief executive officer of Slum Soccer, agrees: “Football is a powerful tool for social development. Children that go through our programmes are not the same again.” They end up kicking dissipative habits and walking towards a more meaningful existence.

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