| Search | Monday 16 July 2018
Home Ako ay Pilipino Pinoys in the News 8 homeless kids winning game of life

8 homeless kids winning game of life

E-mail Print PDF

MANILA, Philippines—When the Philippine team came home from the 8th Annual Homeless World Cup’s (HWC) international football competition in Brazil, the Host Cup trophy they carried, stood for more than just football skills—it represented the hope now filling their hearts.

Although the eight young men representing their country had lived in extreme poverty all their lives, they left for Rio de Janeiro for the international tournament held September 19 to 26, having learned to dream again. And they returned knowing that sometimes, dreams really can come true.

8 homeless kids winning game of life

By Sunshine Lichauco de Leon
GoodNews Pilipinas

First Posted 13:14:00 10/06/2010 Filed Under: Football, Philippines - Metro, Awards and Prizes



MANILA, Philippines—When the Philippine team came home from the 8th Annual Homeless World Cup’s (HWC) international football competition in Brazil, the Host Cup trophy they carried, stood for more than just football skills—it represented the hope now filling their hearts.

Although the eight young men representing their country had lived in extreme poverty all their lives, they left for Rio de Janeiro for the international tournament held September 19 to 26, having learned to dream again. And they returned knowing that sometimes, dreams really can come true.

This is the third year the Philippines has participated in the HWC (www.homelessworldcup.org), an annual event held in different cities around the world in order to call attention to the issue of homelessness.

All players must be homeless, marginally homeless, or a recovering addict in treatment. HWC founder Mel Young says in the website: “There are one billion homeless people in our world and that is unacceptable and unnecessary. We can fly to the moon, invent the Internet, we just need to focus on creating a healthy world where everyone has a home.”

This year’s Philippine team was chosen from tryouts organized by Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation in cooperation with local football associations.

Its members, aged 18-26, come from Negros, Laguna, Quezon, and Manila. Although they have homes, they live in squatter areas, and spend the most of their time on the streets.

All team members have lived and trained together since June, and were given full-time construction jobs, allowing them to earn money to send home to their families while training.

Team of brothers

Team coach and project director Rudy del Rosario, or “Coach Rudy,” describes the effect of three months of intensive, three-hours-per-day training: “The team is one big family, [they’re] like brothers. Instead of weight training they carried sand and cement. For them it was like a regular job and it promoted team building.”

Arranging team visits to each person’s dwelling is another effective strategy. Bill Shaw, co-founder of Urban Opportunities for Change says: “As the players saw the situations of their teammates they became more confident and less insecure about their own situation. They bonded.”

The commitment, discipline, and focus that each player had to develop to train for this event, has had an enormous impact on each of them.

Before joining the team, Leopoldo Aragon, 19, was a high school dropout who was into street drugs and drank regularly at home with his father. During one of the team trips, he spent a few days back at home.

Coach Rudy recounts: “When [Leopoldo] was offered a drink, he said, ‘I don’t drink anymore. I am an athlete.’ His parents actually sent us a thank-you note for the changes in their son.”

Self-confidence

Abdullah Pasion, 20, says football has given him self-confidence: “I can show my family and friends that I am doing something in my life; I have direction.”

He adds, “My hero now is myself. I worked hard to become a member of this team and I am proud to represent my country. I am proud of myself.”

Coach Rudy, who also coaches at the International School of Manila, is amazed at the kids’ perseverance and determination: “Because they come from poverty, they give their all during training. They have a lot of heart. It’s everything for them.”

He adds: “I tell them they are already winners even before they get to Rio because of the transformation that has taken place.”

Eight days in Rio

This year’s eight-day tournament was held on Copacabana beach in Rio, where 51 nations competed for six different cups.

Watching the passion and skill with which the Philippine team played football, audiences worldwide never suspected they came from “basketball, and not football” country.

Winning eight consecutive games, they beat Croatia, South Korea, Sweden, Argentina, Germany, Finland, and Norway (twice). At the end of the competition, the Philippines ranked 25th out of 65 nations.

Their only losses were to football powerhouses Brazil, Chile, and Italy, two of which were on opening day. Brazil and Chile were in 1st and 2nd place.

No fear, ‘always smiling’

Sensing that it was fear and not lack of skills that caused these defeats, Coach Rudy offered the team advice which restored their confidence and changed the course for the rest of the games.

“I told them the only way to play well is to overcome fear and to start enjoying the game. This is something I cannot teach them, they have to learn this themselves. If they can overcome fear in these games, they can also be successful in the game called life,” he recounts.

Football teams from 48 participating countries lived in five hostels but the members ate meals together, allowing them to share more than just a passion for football.

The “always smiling” Filipino team made friends everywhere but forged special relationships with teams from Finland, Canada, Hong Kong, Uganda, and Sweden.

Members of the Philippine team even took it upon themselves to try and heal wounds from the August 23 hostage-taking incident in which eight Hong Kong tourists and their hostage-taker, a former policeman, ended up dead.

HK team manager Ho Wai Chi says, “We actually had a very good conversation with the Philippine team [whose members] apologized for the hostage crisis. This brought the two teams closer emotionally. We sat down and talked a lot about each other’s background and poverty situation. We also gave them a lantern, which they liked very much.”

To escape poverty cycle

HWC studies have shown that 70 percent of those who join the international tournament continue to change their lives in some way. As HWC founder Young says, “The HWC has created a level of change in homeless people not seen before. They move from the margins to the center of a city to a global stage, where they represent their country, stand proud and are cheered by thousands. You can’t go back from that.”

Members of the Philippine team stand to benefit from the ripple effect that competing in these games has given so many. The team members’ individual stories may be different but they have one common goal: to finish their education so they can get jobs to escape the cycle of poverty.

Leopoldo Aragon, 19, the only non-high school graduate, will be tutored so he can take an accreditation test and go to college. Coach Rudy feels that with his football abilities, he can then get a college scholarship. Three other members have received sponsorships for their college tuition.

Keep the dream alive

Goalkeeper and team captain Tony Mark Arinal, 24, says his family had a good life when his brother was working as a seaman. But when his brother died, everything fell apart.

He says, “I felt like I was in prison. There was no hope. I was involved with gangs and carried a gun. I thought life was over.”

Since being picked to represent his country abroad, his attitude has changed dramatically: “I had forgotten my dream of being a seaman. Now I can believe in it again. It’s the only way I know to help my family.”

Lexter Maravilla, 23, says, “Being on this team proves that poverty is not a hindrance to my playing, to my taking care of the country. This shows that football is a sport for everyone.”

He continues, “I want to have a successful life. But I know it will depend on me. People can help but the change starts in me. I want others to know that by working hard there is a way out of poverty.”

The level of support that the Filipinos have increasingly shown for the Philippine team is something that has left Shaw, co-founder of Urban Opportunities, in complete awe.

He summarizes: “This has not been a stand-alone project. This has been a country-wide partnership that has crossed political and social barriers. From the media to the businesses, to the government, there were stand-up people who made this happen. And this team is standing up.”

Shaw stresses that the tournament is only the beginning of the change possible for each of them: “Aside from helping with schooling and jobs, Urban Opportunities is trying to develop a way so players can give something measurable back to their communities.”

He suggests, “The idea of building a network of people giving back, by coaching and encouraging others, is the most effective way of building change.”

Paying it forward

For Michael Quinlat, 24, the act of giving back came naturally.

One day he noticed Nathaniel, a 14-year-old boy who came from a poor family and was always drinking and smoking around the area the team lived in.

At Michael’s suggestion, the team decided to “adopt” the boy. He was allowed to sleep and eat with them. He earned his keep as a ball boy during training.

Nathaniel says, “If I do something wrong, they tell me. They care for me like brothers. I have stopped doing bad things; I now talk to my mother.”

When asked what made him reach out to someone else in need, Michael’s answer comes straight from the heart: “I saw myself in Nathaniel. I want him to have another chance…to change his life.”