29 February 2012
The Homeless World Cup is much more than an annual week-long tournament in one city. People are changing their lives through football around the world, every day of the year.
The Homeless World Cup National Partner in Finland is the Homeless Academy Association. It was established in late 2005 as part of the Helsinki Deaconess Institute's soccer project, in association with Suojatie ry (Crossing Society), which offers training for homeless people and drug addicts.
Supported by the Ministry of Education and the Finnish Football Association, they organise competitions, coaching, and educational and recreational activities for their different groups and coordinate activities with other social agencies.
The Academy supports and coordinates the national homeless competition in Finland, culminating in the selection of a team of players to travel to the Homeless World Cup each year to represent Finland.
This story follows 4 of the people they have worked with over the years.
Anne, Bengt, Kenneth and Marko all have something in common. They are all Finnish; all have experienced homelessness, and all have changed their lives after being involved with football activities.
Anne and Bengt were in rehab together, and both joined the training sessions with the Homeless Academy back in 2007. They were both chosen to represent Finland at the Melbourne 2008 Homeless World Cup, and Anne received the tournament Fair Play Award.
Today, they are both working full time and have moved into a new apartment with their baby boy.
Both of them are still involved in soccer, with Anne playing in division 2 in Helsinki as well as coaching a young girls’ team. Bengt plays division 3 Futsal.
They also support new groups of players at the Homeless Academy.
Kenneth first came to the Homeless Academy through rehab, and with the help of other players he recognized that playing football might be the best way to get back on track.
He was overwhelmed by the support he got from his fellow players, and the experience helped him realise that his situation was not unique.
Kenneth tried out for the Milan 2009 Homeless World Cup team but wasn't selected. His perseverance, however, took him to the Rio tournament in a year later.
Now back in Finland, he works as a role model and counselor. Using his personal experiences, he aims to help people younger than himself who are in danger of following the same path. He recognizes himself in them and hopes that he can help them make the right life choices.
Marko's journey through rehab brought him to the Finnish program in Tampere, which is part of the Homeless Academy. He started playing regular football within the programme, and this involvement led to him being picked for Team Finland at the Paris 2011 Homeless World Cup.
After the Homeless World Cup, he successfully completed a training program to become a painter and is now hoping to start working very soon. In the meantime, he is taking care of his family.
These are just a selection of the life-changing stories that are taking place in Finland and around the world every day as a result of homeless people playing football, which leads to them significantly improving their lives.