Afrika’s tale—saved from the streets to play on the streets

He was also impressed by soccer’s transformative dimension. The sport offered respite from homelessness and addiction but also the residual benefit of motivating participants to take literacy classes, visit job-skill centers and reunite with families. Further, street football changes views of people who watch the homeless play. Barriers of racism and economic status seem less important afterward.

“If you would have told me that you could use soccer as a tool to make an impact on homeless people’s lives like this, I’d have told you you’re crazy,” Mastrocinque says. “Being there and seeing it with my own eyes, I’m amazed at how this impacts their lives.”

Football rescued Afrika again after the futile quest for proof of ID before the 2008 Homeless World Cup. Navigating the tangle of paper-producing agencies on their clients’ behalf might be the biggest headache facing advocates for the displaced and transient worldwide. In Afrika’s case, he had to locate his parents’ death certificates, track down birth records and find evidence of enrollment at his first school. By Apr 09, with Afrika on the rebound from a drug relapse, South African authorities told him his fingerprints resembled someone from Madagascar. Ultimately, the Department of Home Affairs assisted with certifying Afrika’s travel visa to Italy.

Afrika faced other problems. On the website of an in-process documentary about the side, Streetball, funded by From Us with Love, filmmaker Demetrius Wren reports seeing Afrika return to trials following the relapse:

He looks like he has lost a bit of weight and has some sadness in him where there used to be pure adrenaline and excitement. He got kicked out of MyLife, he says for bringing his girlfriend over, and spent a few weeks back on the street and had everything he owned stolen from him. The depression of his circumstances led him back to drugs, none of which he was happy about. Since he is trying out for the 2009 team, he is back living at MyLife but doesn’t feel like he is as loved or accepted by his community as he once did. Due to his appearance and tattoos he has gathered that there are people who do not want to be seen with him, since he looks like a gangster. He has had troubles with some of his old relationships following him, particularly when he leaves his current community and, for example, goes to visit his son. He was chased by a rival gang the last time he dropped his son off and was scared for his life.

In an interview Sept 17, however, four days after winning the City of Milan Cup, one of five lower-tier trophies in the 48-team tournament, Afrika credited football and Thomas’s intervention with restoring his sense of potential. He also could have thanked Penny Streeter, native Zimbabwean and founder of Ambition 24hours, the team’s shirt sponsor, for funding air travel and for other donations that made up the balance when the city of Cape Town withdrew its funding at the last minute.

“I can be the person that I think I can be,” is the mantra that Afrika credits to MylifE. “The past is the past. You can’t go back to your past and do right what you did wrong. But you can do right into the future. That’s how we changed my life.”

Getting such fundamentals to translate to the tactics board is not easy. South Africa—Afrika along with Cheslyn Jacobs, Asanda Mini, Ephraim Maarman, Collen Davids, Rushaad Grootboom, Thulisile Bolana and Siphiwe Mayesela—in Milan quickly encountered the quality and speed of play that can be difficult to replicate in practice. On consecutive days they lost to Hungary (8–9), Ghana (4–7), Ireland (3–10), Lithuania (1–7). Mini, who had looked forward to the spaghetti in Milan, was injured against Ghana and would miss the remaining seven matches. South Africa’s dream of returning with a trophy was slipping away. But with help of coach Alan Lotz and manager Gavin Cohen they studied opponents, called team meetings and worked on communication.

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