A football academy for hundreds of slum children is helping turn “beggars into bankers” and creating some of the country’s most promising players, its founder has said.
Girls and boys wake before dawn and make their way through Delhi’s choking smog to get a spot on the pitch at My Angels Academy and access to education facilities.
Founder Sylvester Peter, 46, started his local community work in 1987 aged just 13 to help starving classmates destined for child labour. He has since supported youngsters fighting their way out of drug problems and poverty-fuelled petty crime to become not just footballers sought by league teams, but bankers, designers, sports coaches and professional dancers. Mr Peter said: “Rich or poor, on the field everybody is equal”.
Students range from seven-year-olds to teenagers and train six days a week at Delhi Development Authority Park.
The academy also offers yoga and meditation classes “for flexibility, spiritualism and concentration”, and day trips to biodiversity parks to escape the toxic air in one of the world’s most polluted cities.
After training, they can access a learning centre and internet connections. The project is funded through donations and by Mr Peter’s counselling and motivational speaking work, but faces a continuous battle to secure cash due to a lack of recurring big donors.
One player, Sandeep Kumar, graduated to become a bank’s chief cashier and holds an All India Football Federation licence, while others have been called to training camps or games against Liverpool, Barcelona and France’s FC Metz.
Mr Peter said: “One of my angels, who’s been with me for 20 years, was a beggar and now he’s a banker.
“Another boy, Anand, was selected to play for Tata Football Academy and has travelled to France and Atletico Madrid for training. Kufi’s a girl who has played for Delhi National. A couple more girls play football at a national level, and others are professional designers and dancers.”