“Hello, good afternoon,” the voice that crackles through the receiver is clear and polite, containing the rural twang of English learnt recently. Homkant Surandase is the assistant coach of the Indian teams for the Homeless World Cup, and the 26 year old’s rise through the footballing ranks is a ringing endorsement of the power of the Homeless World Cup.
“I remember the 2008 tournament in Melbourne very well,” says Homkant. “It was the year I attended the Homeless World Cup as a player. It was unlike anything I had seen before. I decided right after that tournament that my life was never going to be the same again.”
But the road to get there was not easy.
A scrappy Yavatmal childhood
“My family is from Ner in Yavatmal district, and I spent all of my childhood in a slum amidst the heat and dust there,” says Homkant. Readers may be familiar with Yavatmal as the place where farmers are driven to suicide after drought-ridden failure of their crops; for Homkant, Yavatmal was the sights and sounds around him, more real than any deep-dive newspaper report could hope to achieve.
“My family used to put a lot of pressure on me, telling me to get to work and fearing where the next meal would come from. I would occasionally break and sell scrap metal for money,” says Homkant matter-of-factly. “But overall, I was a carefree child, a bit of a rebel against all the pressure. I liked playing football with other kids in the slums. I had no idea that idle pastime was going to shape my life!”
“One day, when Barse sir (Dr. Barse from Slum Soccer) was holding football camps in the slums, I went to participate. To my delight and surprise, I was shortlisted. I was taken to Nagpur and trained for the Homeless World Cup under Andy Hook from Scotland.”
Homkant credits Andy for most of his footballing and personal development over the past seven years. “It was great to see how Andy could extract the footballing ability and confidence from even the most shy and reluctant of people. I was not too great at football, but improved noticeably under Andy as I got more and more confident.”
“I was initially designated as a goalie but ended up playing outfield too!”
Melbourne and a mindset change
Homkant’s experience in Melbourne was a watershed moment. “Seeing so many people from countries around the world go through common problems and show a resolve to battle them was inspirational for me,” he says. “I decided there itself that I would like to travel the world and keep on hearing and feeding off the strength of their stories. I also wanted to do everything in my power to help sufferers in my community.”
After returning from Australia with this determination, Homkant started helping out with Slum Soccer tournaments and was given a full time position in 2009. When India was chosen as one of the countries for the Football Plus program, Homkant grasped the opportunity and trained as a coach. He now regularly works with street children and slum dwellers, helping create teams, deliver coaching sessions, and organizing local tournaments.
“I have helped send people like me to tournaments in Poland and France, and have witnessed a change similar to what I underwent after my Melbourne experience. Every person I help in that manner just reinforces the fact that I have taken the correct decision.”
When asked about his dream, Homkant is surprisingly candid. “My dream is never stationary. If the current dream is to reach Glasgow successfully and participate in the 2016 edition of the Homeless World Cup, then it will change after the tournament to the next milestone in sight.”
Get, Set, Glasgow
Homkant and his team are hard at work preparing for next month’s global Glasgow showdown. “We have plenty of good players this time, and plenty of uplifting stories behind them as well. There’s a boy who was involved in gang wars until last year, a girl from West Bengal whose father is a rag-picker and scavenger…but really, everyone’s story is special.”
We certainly think Homkant’s story is special. A son of a marginal laborer from Yavatmal who rose to become the assistant coach of India’s Homeless World Cup teams through sheer character of steel and force of will. If our readers want to help more Homkants see the light of day, we urge them to contribute to Team India’s fundraising drive for the upcoming Homeless World Cup: https://www.ketto.org/homelessworldcup
You can help Slum Soccer send 20 of our most talented footballers to represent INDIA at Homeless World Cup at Glasgow. Click here to know more.
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