‘Football was the only thing that made me feel at home’

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Drika led Team Brazil to the 2014 Street Child United World Cup glory in 2014. She comes from Serra Caída, a small village in Sergipe located in the north of Brazil. Growing up with her grandparents in a small house, she did not have a lot of money, luxury or basic things, including a stove, lights, tv or many toys.

Here, she tells her story of how football inspired her and took her to a future she had never imagined.

I started playing football with my aunts and cousins when I was seven. That’s the only thing I could do.

I just woke up and played football… to have fun. I didn’t have anything else to do in life.

After the death of my grandmother, I moved to Rio when I was 13. I went to live with my mother and stepfather. We didn’t have that mother-daughter bond because I was not raised by her and I didn’t remember the last time we met.

In the village, life was difficult but I was happy. I was free. I could go out and play with my friends on the streets. But things changed when I moved to Rio. It was very different. I didn’t have my freedom, there were people with big guns and I saw lots of violence.

In Rio, football again was the only thing that made me feel at home. When I was playing, I didn’t think about the violence I saw. I just wanted to play football. Everything else could just go on around it.

When I moved in with my mother, I was a teen and I tried to adapt. We got along, but I had some fights with my stepfather.

Drika training a group of women from the community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

At one point, he kicked me out of the house because I refused to give money that I earned as a stipend from a government apprentice programme. I moved in with the guy I was dating but we broke up after eight months and I had to move out. I was in a difficult situation and had to think about where to go. That is how I decided to contact my aunt and went to live with her.

Other people’s houses are never like your own, you are always trying to adapt. You can’t speak your mind, or you have to wait for others to eat first, for example.

The whole time you keep thinking: “if you do something wrong, they will kick you out”.

When I was 16, I was playing football with friends when a Dutch guy approached and asked if I wanted to play for his team.

My friends and I would go anywhere football was. That’s when things started to change. He was the founder of Favela Street Girls and he said that they would compete in a World Cup.

As things moved on, I ended up becoming captain of the team and after the Street Child World Cup 2014, I became a coach.

A dream come true

I never expected I would be representing my country at a world cup because I came from a small village. It was like a dream come true because I wanted to be a footballer representing Brazil.

It wasn’t the official team but I thought it’s ok, I was playing football and that was my moment. At the world cup, it was amazing to meet people from similar backgrounds. Nobody spoke English but we used signs and hand movements to communicate. I made new friends, it was just amazing.

From then onwards, I started thinking that I can do much more than what I was doing then.

Drika labels football as the platform that helped her shape her future the way she wanted [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

I see the sport as something life-changing for them [the street children taking up football] because it changed my life. Before being part of the street child world cup I thought I would be like an ordinary girl in the community — having a child when I was 15 or 16 years, getting married and staying there, which is not bad.

After the world cup, I met people from different places and that opened my mind and I thought that if I got there, I could do even more. The world was so big why would I stay just in the community?

I did an internship in the United States, where I went to High School for two months and learned English. Then I went to England to study English. I am studying physical education and want to have my own gym, my own business in the future. I also want to keep working with the children because they are family to me.

I realised that perhaps I was a strong woman and even though I didn’t have money, I could do what I wanted to if I worked for it. Football and the world cup gave me an identity and changed my life.

Football was the platform that helped me reach that, to escape from the future I was thinking and expecting as a child growing up in that community.

As told to Luana Ferreira and Faras Ghani.

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