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Real Hero Vijay's 'slum soccer' transforms lives

Feb 21, 2012 09:22 AM IST India India

Nagpur: A sports teacher in Nagpur has been giving hope to slum dwellers. Vijay Barse has given young runaways and former drug addicts a new identity by setting up slum soccer.

Shehnaz would have been burning the stove and her dreams, cooking a meal for her family, in her tiny house. Drugs and alcohol would have consumed Akhilesh Paul as a young kid. Homkant, who ran away from home and despair, would have been wandering the streets with no goal.

But then Vijay Barse entered and transformed their lives. A retired physical trainer, Vijay, decided to take the beautiful game into the slums. One rainy day in 2001 changed him and the destinies of those who followed.

"I saw the kids playing in the rain with a plastic ball. And the idea came to train them properly. They had the potential to become good players," Vijay said.

Vijay's initial thought was to start a small venture to impart skills and turn a few hours in their despondent lives to joyful ones. It snowballed into a bigger movement, the 'jhopparpatti football'. What started with a few children in a slum at Bokhara slowly spread across 12 slums in and around the city of Nagpur.

Vijay's son Abhijeet joined his father and soon 'jhopparpatti football' became 'slum soccer'. Abhijeet scouted for collaborations with international football clubs. For Vijay, his biggest achievement was at the Homeless Soccer World Cup in 2007 when he and his young rag tag team flew to Copenhagen and with FIFA coming in to lend their support, the face of the project completely changed.

Vijay was soon realising that just football was not enough. Counseling sessions to educate the children on simple issues like hygiene, good manners, right and wrong, to highlighting social issues like aids awareness were then organised.

It is no surprise then that 20-year old Shehnaz was able to break away from her conventional home and actually make football her career. A bolder Shehnaz today motivates other girls to take up her passion each day.

Akhilesh Paul fought head-on and came out of a life-threatening addiction. He went on to captain India at the Homeless Soccer World Cup.

Runaway Homkant is today a confident young boy who is one of the coaches at the centre now.

"Earlier I was a nobody. But today soccer has given me a new identity," Homkant said.

Every child who has risen out of a life of dejection has an intense story to tell. Many more like acrobatic Amol and Sharavan are proof of the incredible journey of one man leading many to light.