Perhaps ‘5’ is to be a lucky mascot for Russia: just one month ago it played host to five of the same national football teams hoping to achieve victory in their own world cup campaigns.
But a month ago, those five teams were of a very different nature. Unlike the (often) multimillionaire status and worldwide celebrity that comes with football fame, those competing were young people in current, previous or at-risk situations of homelessness, invisible homelessness, or life living and working on the streets.
The Street Child World Cup brought together over 200 young men and women, aged between 14 and 17, to represent their countries. Street Child United, the organisation who ran the event, provides a platform for street-connected children around the world to challenge the negative perceptions and abusive behaviour they experience on a daily basis. When the 23 teams stood together in the Lokomotiv stadium in Moscow – home of the new Russian Premier League – they had more than just lifting the champions’ trophy on their minds:
“We are the future of the world: we are positive, we are kind, we are creative. The hands that were raised yesterday to beat us are now raised to honour us. Until a few months ago we were termed as ‘khate’ (disgusting, rubbish): we were attacked as criminals. But today we have an identity as national players. Today we are the change, we are the voice. Neither borders, colour or language will stop is. We are all one. To win the football was our desire, but to win all the hearts was our aim, and we hope that we have done that.” Team Nepal
StreetInvest was a proud partner of the Street Child World Cup. We were engaged to plan and run a congress with the young people to run alongside the football. Through workshops delivered over three days, Co-CEOs Duncan and Kate led a team of nine facilitators – including our Regional Coordinating Partners from Kenya, India, and Ghana – to deliver a series of workshops with the young people. Congress created a safe space for them to share their experiences with one another and to feel empowered to advocate for change for themselves and other young people with similar experiences. They showed incredible strength as they spoke about experiences of physical and sexual violence, of the stigma and discrimination they face, often lacking access to even the most basic services. And they had a powerful message for the rest of the world: we are somebody and it is time to change our story. As our own Duncan Ross said:
“It is unique to have more than 200 young people who have been, or currently are, street-connected in one place to talk to each other and show each other, that they are not alone. And to share in an environment without judgement: to come together and bring a voice to what is important. We hope their participation changes the perception of these young people so that their rights are recognised and that something specific changes for these children in their countries soon. It really is time that something happened.”
More than 3.2 billion people are expected to tune into the World Cup final but imagine what could happen if they turned their eyes and ears towards street-connected children around the world. What might be achieved if they took time to hear the words which the young people spoke at their general assembly – the real finals of their Street Child World Cup?
“We demand to be treated as children: not as a piece of trash. We are the Avengers: we have faced many challenges and obstacles in our lives, but we continue to walk the path towards our future, like Hulk and Captain America – they didn’t just become heroes to save people. It is like us: we didn’t expect to be here and represent our country at this event. Even though we are street children, we learn to value each other and take care of each other because we believe when we show care, everybody wins.” Team Philippines
Perhaps one of the five teams who are currently on the world stage – Brazil, Egypt, England, Mexico or Russia – will demonstrate the same strength and determination as their young counterparts. But even if they don’t, perhaps they, the other 27 teams, and the people watching have something to learn. No matter who wins the competition, football can be more than just a game:
“We may have lost the finals, but we will win the rights of street children in our country.” Team Pakistan
Real change takes lasting support. As StreetInvest celebrates its 10th year of working to ensure a more positive future for street-connected children, and to end the stigma and discrimination they face, we know we still have a long road ahead. To find out how you can support us, please visit streetinvest.org/real-change-takes-lasting-support