Interview of Prof. Vijay Barse, Founder, Slum Soccer
A nonprofit organization conducting a nationwide football contest annually has so far witnessed participation from 7 different states for the last 3 years. The tournament organized by this organization serves as a supreme platform for showcasing young talents who would go on to represent India in the Homeless World Cup. Yes it is Slum Soccer that I am talking about, the Organization who took Indian kids to the Homeless World Cup (Football).
Slum soccer is an organization promoting development through the medium of football on a daily basis. ‘Providing them with a chance to play football will not only enhance their fitness but also skills like team-building, self-esteem, friendship, togetherness with the society, self-confidence and creativity’ believes founder of Slum Soccer, Prof.Vijay Barse. In a chat with Babua Biswas, he pour out his mind on what he has done and what he still wishes to do.
Babua Biswas (BB): Good Evening Mr. Barse.
Prof. Vijay Barse: Good Evening to you too.
BB: First and foremost Mr. Barse could you please tell us what Slum Soccer is all about?
Prof. Vijay Barse: Slum Soccer was established as a Non Governmental Public Charitable Trust Organization governed by the Public Trust Act of the state of Maharashtra in 2001. We function with the ultimate aim of reaching out to the Indian homeless using football as a tool for social improvement and empowerment.
We have been actively involved in helping the participants to get basic education and trying to put ‘drop outs’ back in to academics. We also encourage them to practice arts and crafts like dance, singing, poetry, drama. To keep tabs on the physical health of the participants we organize regular health check–ups by a general physician and a paediatrician. Psychological counselling is regularly done by a professional to assess the situation and evaluate behavioural changes, observation of instructional response. Nutrition talks present simplified facts of health and hygiene in the form of a program that makes it easy for our beneficiaries to make good choices when it comes to feeding their family. Through books, documentaries, photography and films we educate children on topics like Wildlife, Forests, water conservation, sanitation and Garbage Recycling so that they become environmentally responsible. This is Slum Soccer in short.
BB: There were many ways through which you could have improved the lives of homeless people. What inspired you to use football as a tool for social improvement and empowerment?
Prof. Vijay Barse: The unbridled joy on the faces of a few street children kicking a broken bucket around a slushy ground in an impromptu game of football, blissfully unaware of the pelting rain in the midst of a sudden rainstorm, prompted our founder Dr. Vijay Barse to start this project. The ‘beautiful game’ is a unique and yet, a perfect vehicle that transcends race, religion, language and gender to bring about a change in the lives of street dwellers. To equip the underprivileged to deal with and emerge from the disadvantages riding on the back of their homelessness, we use the medium of football. Unconventional as it may seem, development through sport has a track record of being successful, across continents and from our own experience.
BB: It’s very difficult to run a program like this. How do you make your programs work?
Prof. Vijay Barse: We work with the ultimate aim of reaching out to the Indian homeless using football as a tool for social improvement and empowerment. Slum Soccer began based on the simple philosophy ‘Football for All’. Over the past ten years, we have functioned true to our original objective of reaching out to and developing football in the grassroots. What started as simple weekend sessions has bloomed into full fledged football coaching camps, educational and healthcare workshops and societal development programs bringing a positive influence to the lives of nearly 70,000 men, women and children in over 63 districts all around the country.
BB: What is your main motive? Developing the lives of street children or making them great football players?
Prof. Vijay Barse: Most organizations working with the sport as a change agent emphasize on development through sport as their focus. Slum Soccer has always aimed to find middle ground by ensuring that while seeking the benefits that sport offers to community development, development of the sport itself is not neglected. The fact that our team represents India at the Homeless World Cup every year makes it imperative that the standard of coaching given to our football teams are of the highest order. As a result, quite a few of our participants are highly skilled at a very young age and with the correct tutelage and monitored development, could very well go on to become professional.
Our typical participant demographic includes the homeless, recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, children of commercial sex workers, slum dwelling kids and youth, street paper vendors and the like. Often these sections are so far removed from mainstream society that it becomes imperative that as a first step we have to attempt to reintegrate them and that has been our primary objective thus far.
BB: Any plans of expanding into other states, especially the North Eastern States of India where talented kids get lost in drugs or join terrorist organizations?
Prof. Vijay Barse: We certainly would welcome the opportunity to set up centers in the North Eastern states. We recognize that some of the most talented footballers in the country come from there. We also recognize that social conditions in the North East are amongst the toughest in the country. If we are able to find people who are truly committed to making a change, we’d be glad to work with them.
BB: Who do you basically rope in to coach these kids?
Prof. Vijay Barse: We believe in the concept of promotion from within and past members of the Indian team come back and are hired as coaches. A few of them have been trained and certified by Adidas and Coerver Coaching and they pass on their expertise to other coaches in camps organized by us.
However, we also actively identify, train and encourage youth leaders in every community we work with, to start, manage and run coaching camps and all the expertise our coaches and staff have managed to accrue over the years is passed on to them.
BB: It’s your organization who took India to the Homeless World Cup. Can you tell us about the Homeless World Cup and your boys’ progress in it?
Prof. Vijay Barse: 2007 saw India participate for the first time in a global football event of any sort when the Indian Team entered the 5th Homeless world Cup in Copenhagen finishing 45th overall. Slum Soccer was responsible for selecting, training and funding their trip. A team has represented India and Slum Soccer in all subsequent editions in Melbourne, Milan and Rio de Janeiro, improving our final ranking to a creditable 35th. Until Milan we had sent a mixed team consisting of both men and women. In the 2008 edition, Indian player Disha Lohabare was awarded the Best Female Player of the tournament award.
This year was also the first time that Slum Soccer sent in 2 separate men’s and women’s teams to the World Cup. The women’s team did us massively proud by winning the prestigious Fair Play Award. We’re all really looking forward to this year’s World Cup in Paris.
BB: National Championship 2011 just concluded. How was the overall result?
Prof. Vijay Barse: This year the National Tournament was conducted at an unprecedented scale in Nagpur from the 31st of January to the 3rd of February 2011. Participation was at an all time high with 200 players from 14 states attending the event. We had teams coming in from as far as J&K, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and West Bengal in addition to the rest.
The closely contested tournament which was played according to the Homeless World Cup regulations saw Bihar pip West Bengal to the title on sudden death penalties. Karnataka was awarded the Fair Play award. We were lucky to have with us, Christophe Mailliet from our partner ‘street football world’ as the chief guest.
The tournament has traditionally been the stage where the next Indian team to represent the country at the Homeless World Cup is selected and this year was no different. A list of 40 probables is being prepared and they will be invited to Nagpur soon for an intensive training camp.
BB: Running such a huge programes will require lots of investment/funds? Where do you get the funds? Are the funds you get adequate to run the program and how do you intent to get more funding?
Prof. Vijay Barse: Most of our funding comes from our international partner organizations. In 2008, Slum Soccer was accepted as a member of the Street Football Network, a strategic alliance partner of FIFA. We received funds after being selected as a part of the Football for Hope program. Partnerships with Sports Consultant giant Alexander Ross and Barclays Premier League side Tottenham Hotspurs have also given us the ability to take our team to the World Cup every year. In addition, the Barse family and other individual donors also generously contribute to the cause
However, with the sheer scale of the project and the expansion plans we have in mind, we really could use much more funding and we are attempting to tie up with certain corporates and foundations. In addition we also aim to make ourselves financially sustainable and are currently pursuing the idea of setting up certain small business ventures in order to generate revenue.
BB: Do you receive any assistance from the AIFF?
Prof. Vijay Barse: Unfortunately we receive none at the moment, although we’d love the opportunity to tie up with them. We’re sure it would be a massive mutually beneficial partnership.
BB: What do you lack most in Slum Soccer?
Prof. Vijay Barse: While we could definitely use more funding, something that we need more in order to make our dreams a reality is a committed volunteer base. This is the beginning of a new chapter of the Slum Soccer story. Social Responsibility is no longer a fad and more people are genuinely interested in making a difference in the uplifting of their community. The biggest tangible advantage though will be the fresh thinking and the determination that new associates will be able to bring; something that will be gratefully welcomed at Slum Soccer.
BB: Thank you very much Sir for sparing your valuable time talking to me. I on behalf of SportsKeeda wish Slum Soccer a very good luck.
Prof. Vijay Barse: Thank you very much.