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Filipinos trade slums for World Cup glory in Brazil

Street competition aims to help teens escape drugs and crime to get ahead

Filipinos trade slums for World Cup glory in Brazil

Maremadel Bancil (bottom right) and Bonna Vanguardia (second from right) had never traveled overseas before the Street World Cup in Brazil

Jefry Tupas, Davao City

July 2, 2014

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Maremadel Bancil was just 12 years old when she started living on the streets of Davao. She freely admits she got sucked into the drugs, sex and violence that went with the poorest neighborhoods in the largest city on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, a place where shiny new malls contrast with streets lined with pawnshops. Unpaved roads and wooden shanties dominate periphery slums.

Maremadel remembers one day she attacked an elderly street-sweeper for no reason other than to “pick on an old woman”.

“Respect was something that we never gave to anyone. In return, people also did not respect us,” she says.

Now 19, Maremadel has gotten herself far away from the streets of Davao. This week she traveled to Brazil – her first trip overseas – to represent her country in the Street World Cup which kicked off on Tuesday as the official men’s competition continued its knock-out stage.

Unlike the official FIFA World Cup, fouls are rare and diving almost unheard of: fair play comes before goals in the street competition.

Referees are called “mediators”, and games are divided into three stages starting with a discussion to establish the rules, the match itself, and finally a talk to decide a final points tally: fair play and goals scored together decide the winner.

In this alternative World Cup in Sao Paolo, boys and girls play on the same team. All Filipino players – eight in total – are represented by the Davao street child welfare NGO Tambayan.

Lisa Solmirano, executive director of the Football Development Foundation (FuDe) of Argentina which organized the competition, wrote in her invitation letter to Tambayan that the aim is to "stimulate a debate … regarding non-violent responses in order to create a culture of peace”.

The competition supports other rights initiatives including the Red Card global campaign against child labor which has brought on board famous figures including Pope Francis and Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Davao, the campaign has led to the creation of girls’ football teams, says Tambayan’s Program Manager Ilyn Kemmeth, who led the Philippines delegation to Brazil for the 12-day tournament.

The Philippines is the only Asian country represented this time round in a competition involving 300 street children from 24 nations dominated by teams from Central and South America including hosts Brazil, Argentina and Guatemala.

Germany, where the first street World Cup was held alongside the FIFA competition in 2006, is also taking part. So too are South Africa, the hosts four years ago.

For the young players of Tambayan United, heading to Brazil represents their latest success since the dark days of their early teens.

“We never thought this would be possible,” said Bonna Vanguardia, 17, who like team-mate Maremadel has never before left the Philippines. "People looked at us as if we were hopeless, as if we were doomed.”

Bonna lives in the slums and both of her parents are unemployed. But she has recently left the streets and has started a hotel management course, while Maremadel is a college freshman.

“All we could think of before was to have fun,” said Bonna. “We now realize that there is life outside of the streets.”

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