For many, sport is freedom. Amidst the complexities of daily life, sport provides the sort of relief that nothing else can. For that period of time out on the field or on the court, it’s a move away from things, a sort of detoxification and a chance to build something new and something great. Sport gives one a chance for enhancement of life and life-altering qualities, it creates empathy and team-building ethics, it creates opportunities to build new friendships for life and bonds for the future and it’s a chance to align things. That is exactly what one club in Goa, India, have planned to do, changing the lives of children as they aim to get them past their previous struggles.
Aptly named as Compassion FC, their name resonates everything they strive to be. This club consists of players from orphanages, who have been underprivileged and marginalized throughout their childhood years. The children from these orphanages have lived in slums or streets with difficult conditions such as the loss of one or both parents and without any support for the future. With the aim of getting the lives of their players on track in terms of education and enjoyment with sport, they have been a success story in Goa in recent years.
The Compassion group, part of the John Paul II Foundation for Sports has been organizing events since 2014, but only gained official status for Compassion FC from the Goa Football Association (GFA) in September 2018. This year, they have participated in local under-14 and under-16 leagues organized by the GFA and hosted trials for players who have come from similar backgrounds. The John Paul II Foundation for Sports has been in operation since 2012, and Compassion FC is the football wing in its umbrella.
This is a great breakaway from the problems the children faced in their childhood years which range from drug, sexual or domestic abuse, malnutrition, alcoholism or unemployment for their parents which has resulted in them lacking essential resources for their physical, psychological and mental growth. For these kids, football has given more meaning to their lives. Raised with little ambition for the future, Compassion FC has given them hope through football, and have provided the appropriate resources to succeed.
Unable to obtain equipment themselves, the club provides the children with everything necessary to play. This includes football kits, nutrition supplements and transport allowances. After months of training, it is determined whether the kids can take their skills to the next level by participating in locally-organized competitions. For training itself, the kids have a role model who can pertinently understand their situation, the backgrounds they come from and the challenges facing them, for he has gone through the whole challenge himself.
Prakash Khatri trains the children three times a week at a ground in Verna, Goa. When he speaks, the children are able to relate their stories to his, as he can understand what they have been through. For the children, Khatri is like one of their own.
“I really do not know my age. I do not know my parents. I don’t know where I was born, and when. I only remember sleeping on platforms and eating whatever I got. For my livelihood, I did odd jobs. I sold plastic bottles for a vada pav (Indian fast food dish). Sometimes, I got plain rice. For me, that was like biryani (Indian rice dish with meat)”, says Khatri, who was aided by the Compassion program. Marginalized, the help he received enabled him to go on and obtain an education he and now holds two degrees: one in social work and the other in physical education. In addition to that, he is also a qualified football coach, now in charge of Compassion FC.
When talking to the Daily Hunt, he was in praise of the initiative to help the kids out of a difficult situation and spoke candidly about the power of sport: “Sports will keep them busy and away from bad stuff. Football is very famous in Goa and many of these kids always aspire to play but they don’t get to. Even if they get to play and show their talent, they are not entertained by other clubs due to lack of proper kits and logistics necessary for practice. Many of them don’t even get proper food. Once they are under the umbrella of a club exclusively for them, they get proper diet and nutrition which is essential for the game.”
He also added how football has helped the players of Compassion FC obtain key life skills and understanding: “I feel very happy that football is giving them a platform to gel with others. It also helps them to realize there are many people like them which leads to empathy. More importantly, being in a team gives them a sense of belonging, love and brotherhood. We are already scoring goals on that front.”
Khatri, his team and the adequate resources required are brought together by Kennedy D’Silva, the founder of both the John Paul II Foundation for Sports and Compassion FC. To get to the point where he could develop a formal team to play in a local league, D’Silva had a fair few problems, as there would be when organising anything of this magnitude. But he has reaped the rewards of it, and in the process, changed the lives of young children who were in dire need of help.
D’Silva has made the objectives of his project evident in four simple points:
- Support the development and well-being of underprivileged and marginalised youth
- Develop and sustain long-term collaborations and relationships with sports and football organizations.
- Recognize talented players and help them to develop a career in football
- Provide life skills training and mentoring program to help players raise their standards of living.
Speaking about Compassion FC, D’Silva made his ambition clear, “Compassion FC is to be a nursery, providing facilities in football to give hope and a future for the underprivileged and marginalised communities across the country and create a platform to showcase their talent in the beautiful game. Our vision is to bridge the gaps in society for the young underprivileged and marginalised through football.” He cites logistics and transportation as one of the major issues facing his team as players are come from all over the state, but he’s doing his best to ensure everyone is fairly accommodated.
“The biggest challenge for us is transportation. It’s not easy to get all of them together in one place for training. We are doing our best to ensure that they don’t suffer due to a lack of training.”, says D’Silva. However, D’Silva’s vision hasn’t been halted, going from strength to strength every year. This year, Compassion FC only participated in the under-14 edition of the GFA league. D’Silva believes that competition against professional sides such as Dempo SC, Sporting Clube de Goa and FC Goa for the under-16s will be too demoralising for the players and is looking to take it one step at a time.
In the GFA U14 League for the Ilhas Zone (the league Compassion FC are taking part in), the team won their match against Agnel’s Youth Centre by three goals to nil – a resounding success for the team – but lost to Dempo SC 4-0 in the next match. This result, however, was taken positively by D’Silva, considering that Dempo are one of Goa’s professional sides and they came into the match on the back of a 12-0 win in their previous league encounter. They also played against Sporting Clube de Goa, another of Goa’s professional clubs, and lost 2-0.
Still in the middle of the season, D’Silva believes his team is good enough to finish in mid-table, a result which would be a morale booster for the older boys of Compassion FC as well as their coaching team.
Away from the GFA League, the John Paul II Foundation for Sports also hosted the fifth edition of the Compassion Sports Festival in August 2018. This saw children from several shelter homes and orphanages come together and participate in nine-a-side and seven-a-side competitions for children across various age groups. There was one major difference this year, however. Usually, children would play competitive matches against kids from orphanages, however, this year things were mixed up based on suggestions and teams were united with the aim of building friendships and fostering unity. In total, there were 210 participants in this year’s edition.
There was also the Compassion Nationals tournament hosted this year, with aid largely coming from the John Paul II Foundation for Sports in terms of organising the event. This event saw several Southern states in India participate. The tournament was held in Margao, Goa and had more than 125 young footballers participating – all of whom were under the age of 14 and coming from marginalized backgrounds. The participating states included Bengaluru, Kerala, hosts Goa and eventual champions, Karnataka. Fittingly, there was a sense of celebration as the tournament was hosted on November 14, which is when Children’s Day is celebrated in India.
The players were fervent in participating and wanted to play at the highest possible level of competitiveness. When speaking to the Times of India, Kerala’s Dilje Michael Jagen was passionate about the game he loves playing: “I want to be a professional footballer. On the field, nobody differentiates between poor and rich. All are equals, and life provides everyone with an opportunity to progress.” The son of an auto rickshaw driver, he also highlighted his ambitions of representing an Indian Super League club and making it to the Indian senior national team in the near future. Like him, there are many, and like Compassion FC, there are many trying to improve lives through sport.
The Goa outfit was defeated by Karnataka in the final but were able to overcome Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu prior to that, while their clash against Kerala ended with the scores level. The tournament was also graced with the presence of Justin Masterson, the former Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher in Major League Baseball, who was the chief guest for the competition in Goa and gave away the prizes to the participating teams.
Away from Goa, the John Paul II Foundation for Sports also lent a helping hand to the state of Kerala, who were ravaged by intense flooding in July and August of 2018, which led to over 480 deaths and forced over a million people to go into evacuation from their homes. This was the worst flood to hit the state since 1924 and forced 35 out of 54 dams in the state to be opened. The damage is estimated to be valued at over $5.6 billion, and it could take years for the inhabitants of Kerala to re-settle into their new lives. However, the foundation tried to play their part and organized help, once again through sport, to get some children back on their feet.
Led once again by Kennedy D’Silva, he reached out to the village of Pariyaram because he knew several families that lived there and they are an area with strong links with his project, as well as domestic football. D’Silva arranged for 50 huts to be provided to affected families and gave them with items essential for living such as clothing, plastic chairs and tables, beds, pillows and bedsheets. D’Silva set out on helping families who had a sportsperson amongst them that was previously associated with them. Speaking about his foundation’s relief efforts, he told the Times of India that he wishes to ease their pain through sport and provide them with temporary respite.
“We are trying to rehabilitate the village through sports. If every sporting organization adopts at least on village, like us, we can easily ease their pain. The trauma is just too much but we can do our bit and give them some temporary relief.” D’Silva and the John Paul II Foundation for Sports also managed to arrange for an exhibition match between a team of Kerala Legends and Goa Legends, which was held in the Duler Stadium in Mapusa, Goa on September 29, 2018. The match finished 1-1, with all funds raised going to relief efforts in Kerala and included former Indian internationals such as Bruno Coutinho, KT Chako, Mahesh Gawli and Abdul Hakkim amongst a host of icons.
They also provided a Compassion kit bag to 300 children who were affected by the flooding with the aim of getting their sporting ambitions back on track. “We have started Compassion FC centres in these places (Wayanad, Idukki and Mallapuram – all areas in Kerala) with our partners from the Kerela Sports Coalition. We train the boys in football but also give them a kit which includes jerseys, shorts, stockings, football boots, shin guards and a water bottle and also including the kit bag itself. We train the boys in life skills coaching programs especially designed for creating a livelihood”, says D’Silva.
Back in Goa, the John Paul II Foundation for Sports joined hands with the Dempo Group and the Nurturing Excellence in Sports Trust (NEST) to launch the Khelegi toh Khilegi (if she plays, she blossoms) program for the development of sports for the female gender. This aims to empower the girl child and use football as a tool against gender stereotypes, improve self-esteem and develop leadership skills. As with the Compassion FC program, they also maintain the long-term aim of seeing some of the girls play at a national level. With the help of NEST and several NGOs, they wish to eradicate issues facing young girls in rural and urban areas and increase sporting opportunities.
On the program, Kennedy D’Silva spoke to the Goan Times: “We have a lot of young, raw footballers in the districts of Goa who are now pursuing their sporting dreams and with the initiative of NEST in Goa, they will be given the right guidance and direction. They will not only bring glory to our state, but also our nation. It is our fundamental responsibility to identify and nurture girls and see more and more girls taking up the sport, and benefitting more from grassroots programs, especially those who are amongst marginalized and underprivileged communities.”
The work of Kennedy D’Silva and the John Paul II Foundation for Sports is incredible. They have given life to those who were struggling across Goa and stories such as Prakash Khatri’s are enlightening to hear. In a world with problems abundant, D’Silva and Compassion FC aim to give some relief to those who have been put in impoverished conditions through no fault of their own, and they have lent a helping hand outside of Goa as well. This isn’t a success story just for one state, it’s a success story for a whole nation and gives further emphasis on how a bit of compassion, care and initiative through recreational activities can make the world a better place.
MANY THANKS TO KENNEDY D'SILVA AND MARCUS MERGULHAO