I’ve never played the part of manager before, so when I was asked to go to Tanzania and put together a national squad of street children for the 2014 Street Child World Cup Brazil - I was definitely interested.
But I wanted to know more before I could make my selection. So, I went to the northern city of Mwanza, where a project called Caretakers of the Environment Tanzania [COET] works with some of the 2000 children living and working on the city’s streets.
Money raised by The Supporter Club, through the generous donations of BT Sport viewers, helps charities like COET both in the UK and all over the world. COET provides emergency accommodation, education and healthcare to these vulnerable street children.
The charity offers emotional support to boys and girls living scared on the street as well as providing shelter and food. It also runs football sessions around the city which is great opportunity for project workers to check on the young boys who haven’t built up the courage to accept the wider range of help.
COET organised a tournament between the country’s teams of street children, giving me a chance to select the 14 players, meet them and hear their stories. We met at a bumpy pitch and I could see they were all nervous.
It’s hard to understand that their only choice has been to live on the streets."
I met 14-year-old Majuto, who was attending COET’S Street Soccer Academy. Four years ago, Majuto ran away from home to escape beatings from his father. He ended up on the streets, scared, hungry and at the mercy of older gangs.
It’s a common story for many of these 80 children competing at the tournament. It’s hard to understand that their only choice has been to live on the streets. It's a sad life to have to look after yourself like an adult when you are just a kid.
Growing up, after playing football, I could go home to eat with my friends and family and sleep in my bed. But after they play on this uneven ground, boys like Majuto have to search for food, or a safe place to rest.
Majuto tells me how much he loves football because he becomes part of a team and it teaches him many things like respect and how to look after himself.
Sadly, Majuto can’t compete because his leg was damaged in a traffic accident a couple of years ago. Instead, he became their ‘captain’, shouting at his team from the sidelines, and dancing when they score.
Looking at Majuto’s passion, you can see that playing for your country is every boy’s dream. My decision could change these children’s lives. Most don’t have shoes to play in, let alone a passport.
Going to the Street Child World Cup in Rio next year could help them to leave the streets behind. As the tournament went on, my responsibilities weighed heavy on me because it meant so much to them all. But I knew one boy who truly deserved to go to Rio.
When I told Majuto that he was selected to be a special 15th player in the role of ‘manager’, he gave an emotional speech thanking COET for their help. As he promised to lead the team to victory, I was confident that I had made the right choice with him and the rest of my team selection.
I can see that COET is doing a really good job in this city. A ball can give them an opportunity to live in a safe place away from the streets, and makes dreams come true.
Your support can keep giving homeless children these moments of happiness, and a chance to change their lives forever.