The governmental approach to tackle the issue of homelessness has always revolved around conventional solutions of Rapid Re-housing and to a lesser extent Supportive and Transitional Housing. More often than not, these methods provide partial solutions at best with homelessness being treated as mere lack of housing. In more insidious instances, the rhetoric of rehabilitation often masks latent aims of displacing inconvenient populations from the more affluent parts of cities and towns. Slum Soccer has however always attempted to make participating individuals self reliant in order to ensure that their rehabilitation is sustainable. The game of Football is our means to that end. In our experience, we have found it an extremely effective measure to get the homeless off the streets as a first step, enabling us to work with them further.
Homeless children and more importantly women endure physical and sexual abuse on an almost daily basis in India. A number of regular participants who are children of commercial sex workers in all probability will follow their mothers into the flesh trade. One of the many indelible scars that this unrelenting exploitation leaves on them is a significant trust issue. An offer to secure them a place of residence is in all probability likely to be met with suspicious refusal. Youth addicted to alcohol and/or narcotics are naturally anti social and there is a high probability that they turn to a life of crime in order to feed their habits. Drug or alcohol induced stupors take away their ability to comprehend the fact that they too can be productive citizens. An offer of their gainful employment is rarely made and usually laughed away by them.
All we ask them to do is kick a ball. That simple act is therapeutic in a Freudian sense. The inanimate football is the outlet through which all the frustration and disappointment the homeless endure are channelled out. The prospect of an evening kick about could possibly be something if not the only thing that they have to look forward to. They come to realize that our football pitches aren’t a place where they are victimized or preyed upon, and can for some time let their guard down. As a first step, we attempt to give our participating players hope.
Football incorporates a lot of values and skill sets that are vital in life. From being social misfits, players who have participated in our programs transform into people who have the ability to work with a team and they learn to trust their team mates. Women, especially, grow in confidence and in self esteem. A surprisingly large portion of the Indian society believes a woman ought to be subservient and deferential to men with the concept of Gender Equality sometimes almost nonexistent. Slum Soccer in a way has helped bridge that gender divide, by fielding mixed gender teams enabling women to compete with their male counterparts on an equal footing. Furthermore, the male players learn to respect women and value their contribution.
While the positive psychological impacts that football has on our participants are latent and often take time to fully manifest, one change that is immediately apparent is the marked improvement in physical fitness levels. Care is taken to ensure that our players receive adequate nourishment and supplements and more importantly their alcohol and drug related problems are addressed very seriously, with counseling and rehabilitation provided wherever applicable. In our experience, while the problem of substance abuse is more prevalent amongst our male participants, the brunt of the effect of these illnesses that are reaching near pandemic proportions are borne by the wives and children. Too often we encounter broken families with spouses and children who’ve encountered severe physical and mental trauma. We believe our efforts in this regard empower women indirectly by preemptively preventing their future abuse.
All this said and done, the biggest factor that enables us to use football as a tool to connect with our people and bring about social development is quite stunningly simple. Football is fun!