The Homeless World Cup has long been widely reported on in Ireland, and it’s a tournament that fills me with hope. It’s pretty obvious, of course, that most of the participants have gone through significant hardships in their lives, and the chance to represent their country probably means a great deal to them.

It got me thinking, though, for all it means to represent a country in the Homeless World Cup, it probably means that much more when you come from a place where the average person wouldn’t have much opportunity to travel, let alone people living on the street.

The next edition of the Homeless World Cup will take place in Cardiff in late July/ early August 2019, and Zimbabwe are one of the participants. They’re in the aftermath of the fall of Robert Mugabe, and the country is in turmoil. What would it take to bring a football team of disadvantaged people to another country against that backdrop? I asked head coach Joseph Kuseka:

Hi Joseph! Can you give me a short history of this team – how did they come together, and how are they funding their trip to Mexico?

The Zimbabwe Homeless World Cup team is coordinated by Young Achievement Sports for Development (YASD) – a community-based initiative that seeks to empower young people through mentoring, positive coaching and education to transform their lives. The Zimbabwe Homeless world
Cup team was formed in 2006 after many families in Zimbabwe faced the destruction of their homes following a government directive to demolish unregulated and unplanned settlements. An estimated 700,000 families were left homeless.

The founders of YASD are survivors of this cleanup exercise. The founders were young people who came up with a homegrown solution to address the challenges they were experiencing due to being homeless.

I understand you had a female manager, Pearl Gambiza, previously in charge of the team for the tournament in Mexico, still a relative rarity in the tournament. How was her tenure, and how have things been for you so far?

Pearl was the 2018 Manager for the team and was amazing in advocating and championing women’s inclusion and participation in sport. Through her initiatives, she created platforms to enable more women to be involved in YASD sporting initiatives. Her tenure saw her advocating for the 2019 team to have a quota for women and the 2019 team will feature 3 female players. Pearl should have been part of the 2019 team but could not renew her passport due to challenges in the country where the travel document is not available.

Can you give me a little bit of background on homelessness in Zimbabwe? How big are the issues, and how are they being dealt with?

It is estimated over 5,000 young people below the age of 12 are living on the streets in Zimbabwe. Most of the Homeless people are found in urban centres like the capital city. Most of the people are opting to dwell in slum settlements which are unregulated and unplanned and face the fear of having their structures demolished.

Due to the economic meltdown the country is experiencing, more people are being rendered homeless or pushed into living on the streets, this is quite rampant with urban dwellers, more than it is with those in rural areas.

The country does not have social safety nets or policies to address the
issues of homelessness which has resulted in CSOs, NGOs and religious institutions coming up with mitigatory measures to rehabilitate and try to assist people living on the street.

Zimbabwe has obviously faced quite a bit of upheaval in recent years. How has Mugabe’s departure affected homelessness?

After the departure of Mugabe, the number of people living on the street has increased. The economy has been on a downward slope which has resulted in an increase in the number of people who are living on the street. The new administration has not done much to provide social support
for those who are homeless or in abject poverty.

How do you find and select players for the team?

Players in the team are selected from various provinces in the country targeting slum communities, marginalised and vulnerable communities as well as headhunting. YASD works in various communities and over the years has managed to mentor and build the capacities of community
coaches who are responsible for selecting community teams which get an opportunity to play in provincial selection tournaments where the final team to represent the country will be selected from. The selection criteria ranges from living on the street, coming from abject poverty, marginalisation, discrimination, social exclusion and living rough.

The selection process empowers the local community to coach to profile players before they can be selected. Through attending the weekly practice session the coaches can thereby assess the transformation process the player undergoes due to their involvement in the practice program.

What kind of difference can a tournament like the Homeless World Cup make to these players?

First and foremost most of the players are honoured to represent their country at such an event. Most of these players dream of wearing the National colours and have the anthem sung, to them it’s a dream come true. The experience also promotes inclusion, most of the players are from
backgrounds where they have been excluded and feel out of place but once selected into the team they become part of a bigger family that is the Homeless World Cup.

The confidence of most players who have taken part in previous tournaments has seen them go on and secure employment, enrol back into school or start families of their own. As the coordinators of the Homeless World Cup in Zimbabwe, we have seen 3 main things that our programme promotes, inclusion, participation and development.

Did any of your current players travel to Mexico last time around? How has it impacted their lives?

The unique thing about the Homeless World Cup is that a player gets to participate once. Every year we take a new team. Players who were part of the team in Mexico come through to assist and mentor the current team. They share the experience as well as motivate the current team.

From the 2018 team, some have found employment and are now working. Others are being supported by a local partner who provides after the tournament support in the form of skills and vocational training to enhance their chances of employability. Some of the players are pursuing professional careers in football and have undergone trials locally and regionally though none have managed to break into theprofessional leagues.

This tournament is a huge one, often with more than 40 teams competing. Is it possible to prepare for specific opposition? Do you have an idea of who might be strong or weak at the event?

The tournament indeed is huge, preparations are not targeted at specific opposition per se but are designed to transform the individual taking part to be a better person. The training goes beyond the football but also works on issues such as confidence building, leadership training, skills and capacity building.

This year we have been focusing on mainstreaming gender equality as we are fielding a mixed team. The male players underwent menstrual health management training workshops for them to have an understating of what their team members go through. The training is more of building a family than it is about kicking the ball around.

We also use video footage from previous tournaments to give the team an understanding of how competitive some team are, their style of play etc.

What can an ordinary person do to support events like this and teams like yours?

Our biggest challenge has always been to get teams to travel to the event, we fundraise for visa applications and airfares. Those willing to support may donate towards part or all of the tickets and fares. This year we started an Official merchandise initiative were we are selling merchandise towards our fundraising efforts. We hope the sale of merchandise will raise us some of the required funds.

For those not able to support financially, even an old pair of trainers go a long way in motivating the players or any old equipment they may have.

What are your expectations for the tournament this year?

This year we are hoping for a top 10 finish, the best we have ever done was position 14. The team has been training really well. It will be a new experience for the coaches as well working with a mixed team, we are keeping our fingers crossed.

You can follow Zimbabwe’s Homeless World Cup journey through their Facebook page, here.

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