Bangladeshi youngsters singing “We want our rights” was the backdrop to the inaugural Street Child Cricket World Cup, bringing together teams from across the world to raise awareness of the plight of marginalised children.
Eight mixed-sex teams competed in the university city of Cambridge over the weekend, with the action moving to the home of cricket at Lord’s for finals day on Tuesday, where India South were crowned champions.
But it was difficult even getting the players to Britain for the event, with teams representing countries as far-flung as England, Mauritius and Nepal.
Bangladesh’s team leader Forhad Hossain had to go to court to be recognised as the legal guardian of the children so they could obtain passports.
Both Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo were no-shows due to the lengthy visa process.
The tournament is the brainchild of John Wroe, the CEO and co-founder of Street Child United, a British charity that uses sport to change the negative perceptions and treatment of “street-connected” children.
It is the first to be hosted in Britain — there have been three football versions in South Africa, Brazil and Russia.
Nizam, 15, was wrapped in a Bangladeshi flag and sported a bandana with his country’s colours on it, showing his patriotism despite a life on the margins.
It still pains him that he ended up on the streets collecting garbage aged seven after a disagreement with his mother — his father had remarried — and he told AFP he has no contact with either her or his three older surviving siblings.
However, now he is on the right path and is attending school thanks to the efforts of Hossain and the organisation he founded — LEEDO (Local Education and Economic Development Organisation).
“I have 54 brothers and sisters,” said Nizam, referring to the other children who live in the LEEDO Peace Home.
“I spend my free time now going round the bus, ferry and train stations talking to the homeless children who congregate there and trying to motivate them to be part of the Schools Under the Sky project.”
Hossain said he and his fellow LEEDO workers have rescued around 2,000 children over the past four years.
– ‘Not worth living’ –
Nizam, who hopes to become an art student, is keen to use the platform gained from performing at the World Cup to lobby politicians when he returns home.
“The politicians don’t talk with the children, they only have time for politics and not social causes,” he said.
“When I go back I will try and communicate with policymakers and ministers and influence them to try to make a law for children of the paths,” added Nizam, who prefers the term to street children.
One of the characteristics of the cricket tournament is the camaraderie between the different teams even if there is a winner at the end.
The game consists of five four-ball overs per innings — and Tanzania’s Kudrack led his team in raucous celebrations after they won their first two matches.
The joy of victory, the meeting with former British Prime Minister John Major, the patron of the tournament, and a visit to the Houses of Parliament are a far cry from the perilous life the 16-year-old lived on the streets of Mwanza five years ago.
“Life on the street is survival of the fittest,” he told AFP through the team leader, Kanut Massanja, who did the interpreting.
“When you get money from begging, the older ones will snatch it and sometimes they beat you. Some are beaten to death.
“It is not a good life on the streets, it is not worth living.”
Miraculously 48-year-old Massanja, through the Mwanza-based Pamoja Child and Youth Foundation he founded, has reconnected the teenager with his family.
Massanja, who was pivotal in selecting the Tanzania football team that won the 2014 Street Child World Cup in Brazil, said Kudrack’s uncle, who teaches at the secondary school he attends, first rejected him but changed his mind once he became the star pupil.
Kudrack though, will, like Nizam, not forget the streets they came from.
“I have dreams and I see them coming true especially when I am in school as I am the best student,” he said.
“So I am praying I continue to do that to help the children as I have been helped.”