As a child Ronalyn was scavenging through our trash to survive. She would go to the streets to pick up garbage, to junkshops to sort through what was valuable, and then later sell what was found for the day. At night she would return to her family with the money to help support them.
Now she’s suiting up for the only Philippine team heading to Brazil for a World Cup this year: Team Philippines for the Street Child World Cup.
Ronalyn was born and raised in Payatas, one of the poorest areas of the Philippines. Her other siblings, in her family of seven, would also work to help the family – doing various jobs around the house. One of the reasons for this is because her father lost a leg to diabetes and so the family relies on the children to be the breadwinners. Her youngest brother, now 9 years old, had to stop being a jumper boy because he kept falling off the trucks after he climbed inside them as they were driving along. This is a common occupation for children in Payatas.
But after starting to learn football only two years ago, she’s progressed so quickly that now she’s one of the players representing the country in Rio De Janeiro this year. Here you can check out a 3 minute video introducing Ronalyn as she shows off her freestyle skills.
The Street Child World Cup raises awareness of the issues street kids face living and working on the streets; the abuse, the threats, the insecurity, the hunger, the pain. Before every major international competition there is a clear-out of the streets as police push out the “undesirables”, usually violently. During the 2010 SCWC, this was even captured on film as the SCWC organisers fought for the rights of these children, arrested for no other crime then trying to find a place to sleep.
In the Philippines it took until 2012 for the government to finally decriminalise vagrancy. This is the “crime” of sleeping on the streets, of loitering without purpose. Imagine your family had abused you in every way imaginable and so you ran away. Then when you slept under a bridge, along the traintracks, or some other place where other street children gathered for some semblance of safety you were arrested for it. Maybe you took some food because you were hungry, maybe some water or another drink, maybe you were in the wrong place at the wrong time as police swept through the area just taking one look at you and rounded you up with the rest. It doesn’t really matter what they charge you with, no-one would collect you or fight for you in so you have no defence. This is the justice system for street children. They are the ones called criminals, yet they were the victims of crimes all of society perpetuates as we fail to care for our most vulnerable. Every religion in the world makes a huge deal of caring for the orphans, the neglected, the abused. Yet when we get a chance to live out those teachings apparently we and our governments completely forget them, and go the other way by declaring their very existence illegal. The Philippines claims to be a catholic country. When Jesus says “as you do to the least, you do to me”, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, it doesn’t often look like it.
As a result, in the Philippines children were locked up in jail, alongside paedophiles, rapists, murderers, and other adult criminals. Underground circles of paedophiles bribing security guards to be allowed into prisons holding these children were reported, though little was done to combat the problem. Those with the decision making power were usually on the receiving end of the bribe. And aside from official government death squads regularly killing street children in the past, and unofficially in the present, not much has been done more generally to help street children. Even now the children who were locked up for these “crimes” are still in jail.
And this is why the Street Child World Cup is so important. It’s More Than a Game, it’s more than a tournament. Football levels the playing field and provides the platform for these children, so often victimised, neglected, hidden, to stand up for themselves, speak for themselves, and show the world ‘I am Somebody’.
For Ronalyn the journey to Brazil is almost beginning. She will fly out to Brazil on March 27 as a national team player. She only started learning football two years ago, as part of Payatas FC, but quickly became a key player and has won many trophies and medals as part of the team and as an individual. She has also been selected to play for a UFL Academy in the Youth League so as that kicks off look out for more updates.
So check out a short video about Ronalyn, showing off some freestyle skills as she declares the motto for the 2014 Street Child World Cup: ‘I am Somebody’.
And get behind Team Philippines. Support our Philippine athletes. And more than that, support all of our people. No child deserves to live on the streets; together we can make sure every child gets the opportunity.
For more information or to discuss Team Philippines and the project, email us at ffafoundation @ gmail.com