Monday, 29 August 2011

From the gutter to the globe

The bus is about to leave. All know it is time to go. There are few words shared. She stops him, touches his arm gently. He is much taller and so she raises herself to her toes.
She steals a fleeting moment, one full of teenage awkwardness. A farewell kiss is hers. Running back to her friends she is greeted by their excited giggling. In this moment she is a hero.

She just kissed a street child but it does not matter, for what just happened here means so much more.

He grins shyly, looks at his friend for support. When the true meaning finds him, his confidence soars.
“He is so cute! I have to have his cell phone number or email address,” screams one of the girls in the group, here arms flapping like a bird's.


And so the Nicaraguan team, escaping from a mass of screaming school children, departs Northmead Secondary School in Phoenix, Durban, for good after being hosted for four days in a schools program as part of the Deloitte Street Child World Championship.

Teams of current and former street children from England, Ukraine, India, Philippines, Nicaragua, Brazil, Tanzania and South Africa are taking part in a week long program aimed at bringing the children and their stories into the spotlight towards advocacy and awareness.
The tournament is the brainchild of the Amos Trust, an umbrella organisation that works with forgotten communities worldwide, and sponsored by Deloitte.
The program is the first of its kind and included additional projects such as Coaching for Hope soccer clinics at host schools, cultural exchange evenings, and a Durban Street Child Tour for each team by children still living on the street. An arts program has been done throughout and culminated in an exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery on Friday which will run until the end of the FIFA World Cup.
The final will be played today with top goal scorers Nicaragua and a well-oiled Tanzanian team as the likely finalists after a week of exceptional soccer. The support here has been overwhelmingly in favour of the South African team and spectators are adamant that the cup must at least remain in Africa.


Together with the culmination of the soccer the weekend program also included a mayoral reception at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Friday and the start of the Street Child World Championship Indaba. The indaba will be a chance for the children to dialogue on themes such as home, safety and health towards crafting a global Street Child Manifesto.
All the children involved have experienced abandonment, neglect, violence and abuse, drugs and bear both physical and emotion scars from this trauma. Many are off the streets, others are in the process of going into foster care or reintegrating with families while others, it is hoped, will leave the streets after the experience.
Key to the success of the event have been hosts Umthombo, the Durban-based organisation that works with the city’s street children. Founded by Tom Hewitt and his wife Bulelwa, herself a former street child, the organisation aims at providing trauma counselling, a safe-space, mobile clinic, family reintegration programs and advocacy services. Durban is a city that has seen frequent street child round ups and systematic abuse and Hewitt hopes that awareness raised in the tournament will lead to a proactive approach during the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup.
“The Street Child World Cup,” says Hewitt, “marks a turning point on an issue that is often swept under the carpet. Finally, I think we will begin to see street children for what they are, human beings…The humanity of these kids has just shone through here and this (tournament) has touched many, many lives.”


The South African team have the highest number of team members still living on the streets and Hewitt hopes the experience will help them with the reintegration process.
From the outset the tournament has been marked by symbolism. Organisers ensured that the final coincided with the country’s Human Rights Day to add emphasise the importance of what they are trying to achieve.
“When people see us by the streets,” says South African team player Andile, “they say that we are the street boys.  But when they see us playing soccer, they say that we are not the street boys.  They say that we are people like them. They are people like us.”
The young man’s observations highlight not only of the social stigma and challenges facing street children but also the shifts that have taken place as a result of the tournament.
The tournament has been a week of laughter, learning and exchange under the banner of “One world. One community. One voice.” It has allowed children denied a childhood to remember what it means to play and grow in a place of nurturing and safety. Significantly, it has also allowed them to see themselves in a different light and so imagine alternative futures for their lives.
Vuyani “Biza” Madolo, the South African team coach, Umthombo staff member and former street child, says that the experience has had a very real effect on his team members:
“Finally they have an identity, and not just the booklet. People look down on them like they don’t exist but this tournament has put them on a platform and people are starting to recognise them and realise that they are foolish for treating them badly. This is so important to their future.”
The ripple effects of the tournament are already being felt at both global and personal levels. The Philippines, ranked 167th by FIFA, won the crowd over as underdogs and in the meantime back home have become national icons. They are the first ever team to play Brazil in an international and will receive a civic welcome on their return home. There were murmurs in the camp at the weekend that they would receive a civic welcome on their return home, their excitement peaked at the possibility that Philipino WBO Welterweight Boxing Champion, Manny Pacquiao, himself a former street child, would be there to greet them.
The Ukrainian team, who live mostly underground due to extreme weather conditions, has had little in the way of proper acknowledged by their society and government but, with the tournament's international media attention, this is changing. The UK team are being sponsored by match fees donated by the English nation team and English Prime Minister Gordon Brown hosted a dinner at Downing Street in support of the tournament.
As if to further illustrate the issues raised by tournament a seventeen year old Tanzanian boy arrived at the communal housing one evening and told a story that moved many to tears. He had been trafficked to South Africa after being promised a job but arrived only to find himself living on the streets for six months.
Having no money or identity documents, except for his soccer ID from his time in the under seventeen national team, and no way of contacting home he heard about the tournament and came to ask for help. Staff at Umthombo have committed to engaging the authorities and paying his way home.
At the individual level the experiences have been profound all round. There have been numerous moments of shared laughter and tears throughout and the volunteers, children, Coaching for Hope members, and other supports staff are saying it is going to be difficult to say goodbye.
Former Tottenham Hotspur captain and England international, Gary Mabbutt, has leant his voice to the tournament and participated in the coaching clinics. Mabbutt, who is a part of both the South Africa 2010 and England 2018 World Cup organising teams, emphasised the unifying power of soccer and was particularly moved by the way this had manifested among the teams:
“We have nine different teams playing here, nine different languages and cultures, nine ways of being, and all you have to do is put a ball down in the middle of the pitch and they all know exactly what to do!”


The global legacy of this tournament is yet to reveal itself although already it has changed perceptions among people in the different countries represented. As for the personal legacy of the tournament, it will remain largely intangible, lost in the multiple languages of the young minds and hearts that it has touched.
What is certain is that society’s throw away, its invisible and forgotten, have shown grace and spirit in their openness, tolerance, and acceptance of others. They have taught all involved a lesson of harmony in contrastA significant lesson for a world who largely turns its back on them, and especially so for South Africa as it celebrates Human Rights Day. The greatest irony being that the ones most denied their human rights have been the ones gracious enough to show us something about them.
Today these neglected young souls walked tall, taller than men. For once they were giants on the earth and they carried all of us on their small shoulders. And so a World Cup ends today, one to rival them all.

21 March 2010

Pictures by Bram Lammers

The story received a Glad Nomination from the Media Monitoring Project
Street children are seen and heard in City Press
25 March 2010

A feature in City Press “Street kids score on World Pitch.” (21/03/2010, p. 27) by Howard Drakes, received a glad nomination for focusing on a sector of the population who is seldom seen in the media. Soccer-passionate street children participating in the Deloitte Street Child World Championship were both featured and sourced.

The feature pictured, named and interviewed the participating children. The pictures involved the reader in the hype, similar to the hype which professional soccer players produce. One of the children, a South African team player, Andile, was interviewed. He conveys some of the difficulties he’s experienced as a street child.

A quote from the founder of the organisation, Tom Hewitt, further brought home the plight of street children:  “The Street Child World Cup marks a turning point on an issue that is often swept under the carpet. Finally I think we will begin to see street children for what they are – human beings”.

Despite the difficulties associated with finding street children, this article could have done a bit more in terms of investigating the after-effects of the previous world cup to understand what happens to the children once the initiative is over.

Giving children a voice in the media is good, but giving street children a voice is the media is outstanding as they are seldom seen or heard in the media.

Media Monitoring Africa congratulates City Press for publishing a wonderful article, allowing children to be part of the “craze”, at the World Cup approaches.

Ronell Naidoo

1 comment:

Elvira van Noort said...

Well done Howard. Great article. A reminder of why you should be writing. A deserved nomination. Keep them coming. And keep on blogging.