homeless world cup: winners in life

Aranas, Jose. “Homeless World Cup: Winners in Life.” New City Philippines  August 2012. 2 August 2012. <http://newcityph.com/archive/1208/update.htm>.

An interview with former national football player and South East Asian (SEA) games athlete Rudy Del Rosario, coach and director of Homeless World Cup Philippine Street Soccer Team under the Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation. Rudy speaks about his advocacy to build homes, hopes and dreams in the lives of young people through football.

What is the Homeless World Cup?
The Homeless World Cup was cofounded in 2004 by Mel Young. Using sports to help change lives, its main focus is improving people’s lives more than winning competitions. It doesn’t really matter if we win or lose, what is more important is that we have bettered the lives of young people we are working with.

Can you share about your involvement in the Homeless World Cup?
I became involved in the Homeless World Cup in 2010 because I believed through this we could do a lot of good for our less fortunate brothers. I came in contact with Bill Shaw who started the Jeepney, the first Street Magazine.

He also founded the Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation. Back in 2008 the Philippines first joined the Homeless World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. That year we ranked 34th among the 48 participating countries.

In Milan 2009, we ranked 29th, an improvement of 5 ranks. Then I took over as director and coach of Street Soccer Philippines and we played in Rio, Brazil, in 2010. We improved and were ranked 25th place and even received an extra bonus as we won one of the six trophies, which was called the Host Cup.

But I just want to stress that the point of the event is not so much about winning the competition, but about participating. All the teams signed up for the event, whether they be the strongest or the weakest, have to play the same number of games just like all other teams. In France we played 13 games. In Rio we played 11 games.

This is what is good about this event as we were playing the same number of games with everyone until the last day. In Paris 2011, we finished 24th. For me it was an achievement as we had made a step ahead from the bottom half and we were now among the top 24.

What are the changes made by this program in the lives of these young boys?
It’s amazing to see the change in these players from the time we recruit them in the provinces or in the slum areas to join the Philippine team. At first they are so shy and lacking confidence in themselves, but with training and after having represented the nation in this international event, they are totally transformed, full of confidence.

One notices this when they are being interviewed on TV. These are concrete examples of our reaching out to them and seeing its effects on them. Another factor is the aftercare program we offer them because, as I said it doesn’t end with the competition.

Later we help them take advantage of opportunities in education and employment or go ahead with their football career. For example, one player got a job with one company who partners with us. His dream was to go on to college, but he had not yet finished high school. This company where he works has partnered with a school so he can now continue with his studies.

Another interesting story is that of Bert Seines. He was an orphan in Manila Boystown. At the age of 10, he had run away from home, and could not find his way back. Then he was picked up by a social worker and sent to Boystown. One relative saw him on TV as he was about to compete for the Homeless World Cup in 2011.

She informed his mother that she had seen her son on TV. The family got in touch through our foundation. They had a reunion after 8 years. It was a very emotional and moving moment. Bert could no longer recognize his mum, so his mother started to call him using her nickname for him when he was still a very young boy and this made him remember her. Good that they were able to reunite as his mother passed away last January because of cancer. Today he lives with his real relatives.

Where do you get your funding? For example, you’ll go to Mexico this year (where the Homeless World Cup 2012 will be held this October)…
We are so non-commercial. We struggle every year to come up with the funds. Somehow this interview with you is good as you are helping us spread the word. Right now we still have nothing. Yet I have always been an optimist. If we have made it to Rio, Milan, and Paris before, we can also make it this year to Mexico.

photo credit: newcityph.com

But why invest on these trips instead of using the money for the children’s studies?
They will never have the same kind of confidence if they do not take part in this event because they are representing the country. Besides, I tell them: “You are representing the poor of your country. You have to show others that poor people are no different.

You got a heart and soul.” They are really different. I have worked with players from different walks of life.When a person comes from the slums or a poor neighborhood, I see they are tougher, and they are not cry babies.

For instance, in the Payatas dump site I saw many of these kids after they fall down on the cement floors; they get up again smiling as if nothing had happened. I’m still hopeful that we will obtain the funds to go to Mexico. This is why we are reaching out to a lot of friends to help us so that people will come to know about this very worthwhile cause.

As a coach, how do you encourage your players to overcome fear?
In Rio, my players were a little bit fearful when we played with the Brazilians. I tried to encourage my team, saying that we all have two hands and two feet just like them. We are just the same. We should not think that they are Brazilians, and therefore, good at football. We lost in that game and I got angry with my team because they had allowed their fear to overcome them. I told them that I can teach them all the soccer skills, but, to overcome fear, you have to overcome it yourself, focusing on the game and knowing that you have worked hard for it. And be aware that the others are also human. They don’t have three feet. We are all equal.

What is your attitude about losing? As a coach, how do you take it?
It really depends on the situation. When my team loses because they haven’t tried hard enough and I know they could have done better, then I got angry. But when I see the players giving their best and still lose in the end, it doesn’t matter to me, because they had given their best. We have a nice tradition in the Homeless World Cup: win or lose after the game you hold hands with the other team and you run to the crowd to acknowledge their cheers. So after the game we are all smiles as we face the crowd and thank them even if we have lost.

Why do you have such a passion for this job?
I am very close to these kids because I can relate to them. I had a troubled life myself, having been into drugs and alcohol in my youth. I went to rehab in 1999. I was sleeping on the streets and sidewalks because I was too drunk or under the influence of drugs. Helping these kids today is also helping me. I am a person who made mistakes in the past, and I’m grateful for this sports which has also saved my life.

What do you envision for the future?
I am always dreaming that we will be hosting the Homeless World Cup, so that more Filipinos will know about it. I am hoping that more people will find out about this because it is really helpful in bringing back dignity to the lives of poor kids. I also see the players who have participated in the program one day running the show themselves as a way of giving something back. Then there are the other grassroots programs where coaches will be teaching street soccer in the poor areas and this is also happening right now.

Any last words which you want to share with us?
Sometimes people lose hope. They think they cannot do anything worthwhile in life. That’s why this program is important because once people see change happening in their lives, they will be inspired to work to improve their lives. Actually I’m very happy to have lived these moments in my life and see football growing in popularity in our country. It’s a dream I had since my high school days to see football fans grow. Yet above all, it’s really about winning in life more than winning in these games. This is the thing that we want to share with them.

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