by Bagus Saragih
© Agence France-Presse
INDONESIA (AFP) — Somad rarely ventures beyond his impoverished Jakarta neighbourhood, but the 14-year-old is now gearing for a trip to Russia next month as a player in the 2018 Street Child World Cup.
It’s the journey of a lifetime for the aspiring striker and eight other Indonesian kids set to compete against teams of other disadvantaged children from two dozen nations.
The event’s third edition in Moscow is a long way from Bekasi on the outskirts of Indonesia’s teeming capital where Somad’s father sorts through foul trash heaps to find and sell usable goods.
Along with his food-seller mother, the teen lives in a 45-metre (485 square foot) makeshift home shared with four other families.
“Not many kids can be as lucky as I am,” says Somad, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
“I want to make my parents and friends proud so we can have better lives and have no need to be scavengers anymore.”
The slum is mostly populated by trash pickers who live in its hundreds of shacks. A potent smell of garbage is everywhere in the district where stray animals wander along its muddy roads.
More than 200 children are participating in the seven-a-side tournament, which kicks off ahead of this year’s Russia-hosted World Cup.
Off the pitch, the kids will take part in art lessons, workshops and there is a conference focused on disadvantaged youth.
“I want to help Indonesia win the competition. But if we do win, I don’t want to show off,” says striker Bayu, picked for the Indonesian contingent from among more than 90 children.
“I want to share the experience with my friends when I’m back.”
In 2014, the boy’s team from Tanzania won the tournament while the girl’s trophy was claimed by hosts Brazil.
The inaugural 2010 event, started by British charity Street Child United, was played in South Africa.
Indonesian team coach Wahyu Kurniawan said children from poor neighbourhoods have a vitality that is key to breaking into professional football.
“Kids from the street are more active and tend to have more power and spirit,” he told AFP.
“My job is to convert those qualities into good football skill and sportsmanship on the field.”
But the tournament is about more than just sports — it’s to give a voice to marginalised children.
“Achievement in the tournament is not our main priority, it’s a bonus,” said Jessica Hutting from Kampus Diakoneia Modern (KDM), a children’s rights NGO that selected the Indonesian players.
“We use football as a tool to bring street-connected children together in a safe space where their voices can be heard.”
© Agence France-Presse