Interview With Abhijeet Barse
Slum Soccer was registered as a Non Governmental Public Charitable Trust Organization governed by the Public Trust Act of the state of Maharashtra in 2001 under a board of directors. The organization is subject to periodic financial audit by law. SS function with the ultimate aim of reaching out to the Indian homeless using football as a tool for social improvement and empowerment.  Abhijeet Barse is at the forefront of providing safe fun environments for children and young people to play soccer.
Can you tell the National Children’s Football Alliance (NCFA) members what inspired you to form the fantastic Slum Soccer?
Most slum dwellers never get an opportunity to properly play and excel in sports activities. Vijay (our founder) realized that instead, many became criminals or substance users. As a sports teacher, Vijay was all too aware of the positive life skills sports can teach, as well as the loss for the country and the sports world, as so much talent goes unsupported and undiscovered. Vijay could empathize with children from the slums who had no proper sports instruction, and began running sports and games for them. He was encouraged not only by his friends and family, but also the guardians of the children and teenagers he was coaching; drug use and addictions went down, and school grades came up. He had a unique vision for India’s Slums.

What activities are Slum Soccer providing for children and where do Slum Soccer facilitate football in India?
Our project was created through necessity, its aim: to offer much needed sporting opportunities and personal development programs to disadvantaged young people across India. Football coaching camps and tournaments are organized for boys, girls and young adults from Slum areas around Nagpur. Whilst giving the children a chance to play football in an organized environment, we conduct workshops to run alongside the coaching sessions. As well as Healthcare workshops, we often hold educational workshops, in which the children are made aware of the importance of attending and working hard at school. One of the aspects of our project that we are most proud of is the continuing evolution of the project, which sees many of our former players now acting as coaches within our project. We are proud that these players want to continue and develop alongside side us. We believe it shows that they can appreciate how the project has benefited them in the past, and continues to benefit local children. The coaches and educators know exactly what will benefit the children, and the coaches can also promote our project within their local community. Upon seeing our coaches parents and guardians can see firsthand the benefits of football and our project.

What kind of children participates in your football activities?
Most of the children come from slums; we have centres running at orphanages, rescue centres and in the red light district of Nagpur.

Who are the volunteers that support Slum Soccer on the frontline?
We have a very dedicated group of volunteers. They come from all backgrounds but the common thread that binds them all is their passion for football and the opportunity to use football to achieve development. To name a few we have football coaches, teachers, engineers, doctors, software professionals, chartered accountants volunteering their services to us.
As you know NCFA share many of the aims of Slum Soccer especially, ‘Development through Football’.  How does your organisation use football to get young people back into education?

SS encourages all its participants to give education its due importance; our coaches keep a regular eye on how the children are doing in school.  For other participants we are trying to provide out of school learning experience, based on their skill levels and interest.

Can you tell us about the Project Sunshine Kids and working in association with Sunshine Foundation? .

We intend to cover a lot of ground with project especially for female participants. Issues such as reproductive health and hygiene are being worked alongside with creating employment opportunity through this unique collaboration.

Slum Soccer’s philosophy mentions ‘€“ ‘’€¦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!  How difficult is it to convey this message in one of the world’s most celebrated cricket nations?

Initially it was quite difficult, but as soon as our participants started getting opportunities for showcasing their talents and being acknowledged by their community it became easier for us. Most of the coaches are players who have gone through the program and are now training and encouraging younger children to take up football. Also the fact that football is easier to play and learn and also cheap helps a lot in popularizing in neglected sections of the society.

Football for All is a basic Slum Soccer principle how is this worked into your methodology?

Football is used as tool to get the dialogue started between communities, it helps us to make an inroad in otherwise closed communities. Once the participants start to play and practice together we start with the educating them about issues such social inclusion, gender issues,
From a general participants perspective we don’t limit the participation, we invite everyone to participate irrespective of their age or gender.

How important is it that the world of soccer acknowledges children who play the game outside of the radar of the professional game?

One of the biggest achievements for our participants is the opportunity to play in the Homeless world Cup which gives equal importance football as well as development through football.  When these participants come back after such as exposure, they start sharing their experience with their communities. We also train such participants to take up roles of leaders and mentors for other kids.  From a football perspective such participants get to participate and be a part of good team outside our organization.

Children in many cultures struggle to retain their birth right to play football, how does Slum Soccer address this issue in the corridors of power?

Football still has a long way to go before it is considered important as compared to cricket. We are trying to promote football for the very reason that it is cheap and simple alternative to other sports. Also one of the biggest challenges is that sports is considered to be a competitor to education, it is this mindset that we are trying to break. We are trying to improve at the grassroots, but we hope that the effects will be reflected at the higher levels.

In your opinion is there scope for an International Children’s Football Alliance that could represent children on a global platform?  An organisation that supports the world’s extended children’s football family and reinforces all the good work being done by organisations such as yourself.

Yes, absolutely. Having gone through your website i believe that you are trying to give football the much needed social/community side, instead of creating just footballers you are trying to create well rounded kids which by our standards is highly commendable.

Is there a Slum Soccer project that you would like to tell our readers about and how they might like to support the good work being done?

Very recently we started women’s football development project which is focussed on girls from our target areas.  We need support in terms of female coaches, curriculum development and finances as well. Creating awareness about our work is also one area where we need support.

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