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Living in the streets of Odessa, dreaming of becoming a famous footballer

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2012 / M.Koryshov

Anton will soon turn 12. He was born in Russia, but after his father died, his mother found a new husband, who according to Anton used to beat him up and treat him badly. Life for him was miserable and he saw those who were supposed to take care of him spend all their resources on alcohol.

Everything seemed to be going downhill for Anton until one day the family travelled to Odessa to visit some relatives.

While they were there, Anton’s parents continued their drinking and were kicked out on to the street.They slept in different places and started begging for a living. Eventually they ended up in a wooded area in the Odessa suburbs, where a social patrol found them and offered them some food. Anton was invited to attend a special summer camp and his life changed ever since.

Oleh Vannyk, a social worker from a UNICEF-supported organization called “Way Home,” explains how Anton was lucky. There are many kids who go unnoticed by sympathetic people and there are children who refuse to live in children’s homes or with foster families. As they need to earn money, they become adults very quickly, being deprived of childhood: “Even aged 12 their histories are so difficult that this would be enough to shoot several TV dramas,”he says.

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2012 / M.Koryshov

According to estimates, there are more than 20,000 homeless people in Odessa, many of them children. Odessa is one of the cities where UNICEF, along with its partners, implements programmes to help children and adolescents living or working on the streets. One of the programme components is to use football for children’s rehabilitation.

Now Anton attends a regular school and lives at the Way Home premises. He has participated in a specialized programmes to get him back on track, similar to many of his peers who cannot read and write even in the age of 14 and 16.

Anton says that he made a lot of friends, while teachers help him to learn and to go on with his life.

According to Oleh Vannyk, the boy’s mother may come to visit him once every several months. “Probably, as with any kid, Anton misses her.

But he feels comfortable here; he has many things to do. We do our best to make his life more interesting,” he says. The social worker explained that the boy’s mother has no place to take him to and no permanent job.

Anton is a member of a football team called “Domovenok” (little brownie) and his dream is to become a football star. His favorite player is Cristiano Ronaldo, who also grew up in a poor family and whose parents had no money to send him to a good team.

Anton believes that it was hard work and determination that helped his idol to become a world’s renowned athlete.

Olena Sakovych, UNICEF’s Youth & Adolescent Development Officer, says Anton’s story is one of success. The interest that vulnerable children show in football is tremendous.

In addition, the sport could be used as an effective instrument to help with children’s rehabilitation and included in many UNICEF programmes.

According to the estimates of some experts’, there are around 100,000 children living or working on the streets in Ukraine. Social vulnerability factors hinder access to medical and social services. UNICEF calls for social inclusion and increased effectiveness in helping the most vulnerable children and families in Ukraine.

Sport unites people and brings hope for the better future. It is very important for children to lead an active life and to be involved in sports and this is why UNICEF supports community initiatives aimed at helping children deprived of parental care and other vulnerable children through their involvement in football.



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