Channeling hope is not easy with young people from the slums of India. Often they live under great big corporate bill boards and big neon lights, which advertise the perfect bodies and the perfect lifestyles. Slum Soccer (SS) provides access to hope – it is much more than the sum of its parts. I have had the privilege to work with SS for many years. I have learnt a lot about myself whilst working with SS’s staff, participants and volunteers. For that very reason, I have a close bond and affection, for all their hard work. Professional football is played on a different planet. SS are a reminder of the essence of the game – a game we all played as children.
I spent a day with my good friend Dr Vijay Barse, founder of Slum Soccer. I always find him good spirits and very humble, about all that is does.
EB. I read and hear, that Bollywood are making a film about your life as the Founder of SS?
VB. Smiles. Yes, Amitabh Bachchan a very famous actor here in India – he is playing me. Have you heard of him?
EB. It is impossible to come to India even for one day and not hear or see images of Amitabh Bachchan.
VB. The whole experience will be fun for my grandchildren to watch one day (laughs).
EB. This experience will catapult SS into an arena that you have never experienced before – national media attention, etc?
VB. Perhaps! However, just like you, Ernie. I have my feet on the ground at all times. If this project / film enables SS to provide more children access to education through football then it can only be a good thing.
The day before SS host a tournament in Mumbai Vijay took me to see two projects outside of Nagpur in Maharashtra that will benefit many boys and girls.
VB. Here at Generation Amazing Pitch (sited at a Muslim school on the outskirts of Nagpur) we have a pitch that will provide the whole community with a safe place to play. This is a poor area with no facilities for children to play together. We are very proud of this pitch. It was once a waste ground where wild pigs would forage. Now look at it – changing room facilities, fencing and flood lights. Lots of hard work and this is the result.
I could genuinely see how proud Vijay was when he showed me around the humble facility and yet, I could clearly hear the joy of the children playing on the pitch.
EB. SS continues to breakdown barriers and challenge stereo-types, especially through play and mixed gender football, for children. Do you have a vision or a plan to where you would like SS to be?
VB. Like the NCFA – SS have many hurdles to jump. We have no master plan to take over the world (lots of laughing). We are humble in our work. We know the benefits, we know our communities and how young people benefit through play. I am proud of our soccer coaches that have come through our academy and I am proud we have helped many soccer coaches along their journeys. I believe they are better people for their experience.
The second location is a little closer to Nagpur. It too is a Muslim school with very high academic achievers. Along with Vijay Barse I met with the Head Teacher and members of her staff, we were taken on a guided tour and once again, there was joy on the faces of children and staff, at the prospect of their new SS pitch.
VB. There is a lot of work to be done at this location. Everyone is behind the project. It brings people together. The school is in the middle of a slum area and yet, the teachers give a very good education to all the children. Standards of education is high. Now SS can help raise those standards in play and physical education. It will benefit all participants and raise standards even higher.
There is air of optimism for the long-term benefits through play for both boys and girls, is clear to see. Dr ViJay Barse is an extraordinary man. I believe his work will leave a legacy for children, teenagers, volunteers and soccer coaches, for many years to come.
Soccer in India continues to grow. Albeit slowly. However, it only takes one superstar footballer (male of female) born in India!
It takes talent to spot talent. One day that talent will come from SS – if so, he or she and the soccer fraternity of India, will have to pay homage to the man with a vision that only ever brings smiles to the faces of young people that play soccer, Dr Vijay Barse.