Giving street kids a voice

DESCRIBE a day in the life of a youth worker and soccer coach?

At Umthombo we are at present training for the Deloitte Street Child World Championship we are hosting in March.

Life can start as early as 7am when the street children are already eager to play football. We travel to Safe Space at Umthombo to have a hearty breakfast of Cheerios or African porridge.

We grab the kit, boots, cones and balls and either head for the soccer pitch or the beach for beach soccer. We begin with a warm-up, stretching our muscles, and a light jog . Then we work on ball control - followed by a game.

At 1pm we return to Umthombo for lunch and a rest and maybe some chores like cleaning. Then we head out again from 3pm to 5pm for more soccer skills and training.

In the evening the kids return to the street already excited about tomorrow's training. The excitement around the Deloitte Street Child World Championship is incredible and we are training to be not only hosts but also champions!

This happens seven days a week unless the children are faced with a roundup or an emergency on the street.

On Saturdays we sometimes have matches against the juvenile prison team from Pinetown or the police.

Why did you decide on this career?

From my own experience of having lived on the streets I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to supporting street children to give them a voice and explain their rights to them.

The Deloitte Street Child World Championship is a great vehicle for making this happen not just in South Africa but across the world.

Umthombo leads the way in its care for street children and in reintegrating them into mainstream society, but we want to roll this out across South Africa - there's more to do!

How did you get into this career?

Umthombo chief executive Tom Hewitt has been like a mentor to me and called me up when I was in East London.

He asked me whether I would consider using my experience to work for Umthombo in Durban.

What's challenging about the job?

Seeing roundups by the Metro police is challenging. Street children are not a safety and security issue but a social development issue in South Africa and Umthombo recognises that.

To see children living on the streets in 2010 is a challenge.

Umthombo is going to make sure that when the world's attention turns to South Africa for the Fifa World Cup this festival will be for all - even street children.

They must not be rounded up and taken out of sight. We want people to know that street children are youngsters with talent and potential.

What do you love most about your career?

I love learning from the street children. They are full of surprises and the fact that they look up to me as a role model-mentor keeps me going through tough times.

It's also wonderful to be involved in initiatives like the Deloitte Street Child World Championship.

Who would have thought David Beckham would pledge his support to street kids in South Africa?

What type of person would make a success of this position?

In this job you have to have a love of football, be a good listener and be really passionate about children's rights.

What should one study at tertiary level to get into this career?

I want a degree in law and social work. I want to safeguard the rights of street children through the law!

A wise Kenyan friend of mine once said: "The university of life will teach you a lot."

This is certainly true in my role, but an education is essential for our future!

l Umthombo is host to the first ever Deloitte Street Child World Championship