Seven years ago, 10-year-old S. Sandhiya, a Class XII student now, would pick up vegetables from Koyambedu market to sell along with her mother. Today, she has the opportunity to lead team India in the upcoming Street Child Football World Cup 2022 at Doha, Qatar. “It is surreal for me to think how far I have come. Football is more than just a sport for me. It helps me de-stress and has changed my life,” she gushes.
With Sandhiya, a bunch of girls from Karunalaya Social Service Society, that works for the rehabilitation of street children, will be heading to Doha to play Street Child Football World Cup 2022 from October 6 to 16. From being a tool to heal and empower them, football has become the transformative agent in their lives.
Every day, from Tondiarpet, they take a bus, a train and walk a distance to practise on the ground at Perambur to give it all for their upcoming game, they say. Children from 25 countries, including Brazil, Bangladesh, Mexico, Egypt, Peru, the U.S., England, Hungary and Pakistan will participate in the World Cup 2022 which will be held for 10 days.
Karunalaya, a non-governmental organisation working with children in the north of the city, working with the government, has been taking a slew of measures over the years to protect and empower these children be it in education, healthcare and sports. These children have been given a platform and are trained under special coaches for the event. “For these children, engaging in sports builds confidence, motivates them and shows them they can dream high and accomplish anything if they persevere sincerely,” Paul Sundar Singh, secretary of Karunalaya, says.
In the past, children from Karunalaya have travelled to Brazil, Russia and England to play football and cricket. “Exposure to sports and travelling abroad has changed the perspective of students for the better and some of them are faring well in higher education,” he adds.
K. Priya, a Class XII student, says she looked up to her seniors in awe when she joined Karunalaya five years ago. Today, she prepares rigorously and says she will strive to give her best during this rare opportunity. “Now, my peers and juniors see me as an inspiration. My friends and I gleefully stare at the flights zipping past over us. Now, to think I’m going to shortly take my first-ever flight.... Seeing all this will definitely inspire a lot of people in my community,” she says.
Despite the busy schedule, they juggle practice sessions and lessons judiciously, Sandhiya says. “After long hours of practice, I get back and study at least for a few hours. I come first in my class and will be the first graduate in my family soon”, she adds.