Pankaj Mahajan was born into extreme poverty but his life’s bigger problem was an alcoholic abusive father whose beating, night after night, would leave his son bruised and battered.
It was one traumatic phase and Pankaj was at the limit of his tolerance.
Virendra was wandering aimlessly, his life gripped by gambling. He would probably have gambled for life, but a twist in the tale jolted him out of the slumber.
Life was hard for the soft-spoken Pankaj, Virendra and people like them till they came across football.
Living up to the social value of the beautiful game, ‘Slum Soccer’, a vehicle to ensure all-round development through football, is helping numerous underprivileged children dribble their way out of poverty and illiteracy.
Football and society have always been intertwined and realising the sport’s potential to create a meaningful change, the father-son duo of Vijay and Abhijeet Barse has been for years trying to help those in need through the FIFA-recognised non-profit organisation.
The organisation had won the inaugural FIFA Diversity Award in September 2016.
“I used to work as a researcher and landed a job in the US. When I started I had no idea how to use sports to deal with issues which are not directly under the ambit of sports, using sports to do something which intrigued me,” Abhijeet tells PTI.
Slum Soccer was started by Vijay and Abhijeet joined his father four years after working on his research on toxicology and environmental pollution. While he was in the United States, reading about his “dad” would give him immediate gratification.
“It was a natural progression for me, and once I reached the top I felt a lot of focus,” Abhijeet says.
He adds, “We teach them mathematics, literature, financial literacy, life skills and health through the language of football.”
“We speak about gender equality and bring boys and girls to the field together. Our girls are never shy, they are never shying from responsibilities.”
Pankaj, Virendra are among the many poverty-stricken individuals whose lives have has witnessed immense improvement with the help of this organisation.
Little did he know that his life would transform when Pankaj kicked a ball for the first time.
He would blossom into a leader at the centre, was put through the organisation’s youth leadership program, while receiving a call-up to the India’s Homeless World Cup squad.
Pankaj is one of the many poverty-stricken individuals whose life has witnessed immense improvement with the help of this organisation.
Attached with 65 schools, they are now working on six distinct programmes under an initiative called ‘Shakti Girls’.
So how did this journey begin? The joy on the faces of children playing football in a slum on a rainy day, comes the answer.
Things took a turn for good when Virendra came in contact with Slum Soccer. There was no looking back as he grew from strength to strength and now works as a player-cum-coach.
Virendra represented India at the Homeless World in 2017 in Oslo, Norway. He is a firm believer of gender equality and says sports and education can go hand in hand.
Reena Panchal was frowned upon by her community for indulging in football but overcoming obstacles at home and outside, she went on to play in the national championship in 2014 and the 2015 Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam.
Hailing form a remote village called Ner in Maharashtra, Homkant Surandase is the son of a marginal labourer, who left his home when many farmers in the area were committing suicide after being hit by drought and debt.
He now works with groups of street children and slum and shelter dwellers creating teams, delivering coaching sessions and organising tournaments.