How we’ve been able to use football to reach children on the streets in Tanzania

As football fever gets underway once again in the UK find out more about how Railway Children uses the beautiful game to reach street children in Tanzania and help them reach new goals.

 

Mwanza, Tanzania – 9am

On a strip of rough parkland surrounded by wooden shacks two of Railway Children’s outreach workers, Simon and Eva arrive, trundling a mobile classroom into position. Within minutes scores of children appear from every corner of the park. Most are dressed in threadbare jeans and dusty T-shirts. A few have got hold of outdated English Premier League football shirts. Their faces are shining with excitement.

It’s not the chance to join the informal education or the subtle life skills work that Eva will be doing that draws them. It’s the knowledge that the session always starts with a kickabout.

Younger boys join Simon in the middle of the park while older youths keep a keen eye from the sidelines. The players are all handed freshly-washed football shorts and tops and suddenly they are transformed into teams, instinctively falling into their roles – captain, keeper, star striker.

Eva notes down details from the children who are making their first visit.  She knows that most of the information they give her is false - they are too scared to tell their real stories. Gradually, as they keep coming back, keep joining the match and come to trust her, they start to tell the truth. Then finally they can work out how to help them in the long term.

After the game Eva and Simon bring out sweet chai tea, juice and mandazi – delicious little African doughnuts. The children savour every last drop and morsel. Some of the older boys help to serve the food and drink. They take on the responsibility of looking after the younger boys.  At night as they lie down to sleep on the streets, they will form a circle around the youngsters to try and protect them from the dangers of the night.

Eva notices two young boys chatting away. They’re both new to the programme and had never met before. One of the boys is 10 and the other is 7.  They’ve both been on the streets for a couple of weeks. The older boy tells the younger one where he’s been sleeping and how he’s making a bit of money from collecting and selling plastic bottles from the ditches and rubbish tips. He invites the younger one to go with him.

Even in this desperate situation, for just a couple of hours, these boys are making friends.

They’ve been able to scamper about in clean kits, score goals, play games, have fun and, above all, just be children.

These football sessions are just the beginning. It’s a way to start building a relationship and Simon and Eva are ready - as soon as the boys are - to help them change their lives for good.