Football rejuvenates street children, ready for World Cup [Express Tribune]

Football rejuvenates street children, ready for World Cup [Express Tribune]

Players training in Karachi ahead of SCWC in Brazil. Pic: Athar Khan/Express
Players training in Karachi ahead of SCWC in Brazil. Pic: Athar Khan/Express

KARACHI: The journey of the Pakistan football team from Sharafi Goth all the way to the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro has also been the story of reformation for at least nine local U18 players.

The Pakistan squad is all set to leave for the SCWC 2014 in Brazil on March 27, while coach Abdul Rashid will be concluding the camp today.

Rashid spent three months with the talented players, who are coming from a rough past and experienced difficult times on the streets.

“It’s an honour to train these children and prepare a team to compete in Brazil,” Rashid toldThe Express Tribune.

“These boys have come a long way in life from living on the streets, from using drugs and abandoning their families. They have a better life now and through football they’ve now found a purpose.”

According to him, Pakistan will compete in the seven-a-side tournament. The competition will also feature teams from 19 other countries including Argentina, Brazil, England, the US, Nicaragua, Liberia, South Africa, Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt and defending champions India.

“I know my players will perform well because of their spirit. With this tournament, all of them have found a sense of responsibility. Most of them still can’t believe that they will be going to Brazil, representing Pakistan. But as a coach I know that each one of them have proved themselves by training hard and learning the technique quickly.”

The SCWC is an initiative to give an identity to the street children all over the world. The first SCWC took place in South Africa in 2010.

Locally, the preparations of the SCWC were managed by Azad Foundation in collaboration with the British Council and other local organisations who work with the street children for their rehabilitation.

Rashid was also a part of the selection process which took over six months. It involved holding camps in impoverished communities in Korangi, Mauripur, Ibrahim Hyderi, Lyari and Machar Colony.

Making a place in the final camp, 16-year-old Salman Hussain, who lived on the streets for four years, said that participation in SCWC is the most important thing for him.

“This is the first time that I played football,” he said. “I can’t say whether we’ll win or not, but just the fact that we are competing with other countries is overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, striker Owais Ali, who left his home when he was six said that with this opportunity, he has made his mother proud.

“The biggest moment for me was to reunite with my mother four years ago through the Azad foundation.  I’m all she has now and I know she is proud of me,” said the ninth-grade student.

On the other hand, vice-captain Aurangzeb and his fellow midfielder Abdul Raziq are touted to be the players to watch out for, according to Rashid.

“I’ll be playing football, I want to have a career in it now,” said Raziq, who used to sell fruits on a make-shift stall in front of a football stadium in Mauripur.  Similarly, Aurangzeb said that football is his passion and he wants to score in Brazil for Pakistan.

Meanwhile, goal-keeper Samir Ahmed will lead the team in Rio ; Quetta’s Faizan Fayyaz, Muhammad Shoaib, Mehr Ali and Rajab Ali are also included in the squad.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.