2020 Beyond Sport Global Award Shortlister for Peace & Social Justice, Shelter Ashraya Nepal, leverages football to protect and support street-connected children.
As a young child, Santosh Rai and his younger brother were separated from their family during Nepal’s post-conflict migration. Shelter found them, homeless, addicted to sniffing glue and facing daily harassment. They took them in an turned their lives around. Though they were able to locate the Santosh's mother four years later, she wasn't able to take care of her sons, so they stay with Shelter and visit family during holidays as part of the government’s reintegration program.
Below, in his own words, Santosh reflects on his life and sport. Read it and then Take the Journey with all our Shortlisters through December at beyondsport.org/journey.
I am in 9th grade, but school hasn’t started due to COVID. Currently I am playing football and getting some vocational skills too. I am in my reintegration period and with family for a few months. I lived without them for almost a decade, but I feel blessed to have another family in Shelter.
When I was on the streets, people looked down on me, but now I have respect and opportunities. I got an education and freedom to play and dream. I love science and making inventions. It gives me much happiness. If God can't be everywhere, they send angels and Shelter is mine.
I was in the training camp for the Street Child World Cup, but didn’t make the team. But that did not stop me. I worked so hard and in 2019, I got the chance represent Nepal in the football friendly in Malaysia. It was the best experience of my life. My whole village came to see me off.
I’d heard that my father was there, stuck as a labor worker after he fled Nepal. We’d been separated 12 years, but Shelter found him and told him that I was there. We both cried. Laborers are treated poorly, so I was really proud for him to see me play under the national flag and win.
It was dream come true. A dream that gave me hope and belief that I am SOMEBODY. I am equal and special too despite my dark past. My past does not make me weak. I made it through and have come out stronger.
I can tell you that the best thing in my life is football. It gave me confidence, discipline and a passion. I think football transformed me and many other children.
Our voices have reached the national leader, international organizations and now with the help of this award, we will be heard globally. I have shared a tiny bit of my story, but this is millions of children’s stories.
The struggles of our community inspire me to really work hard so that I can support my little family and children like me. I volunteer at Shelter to help other youth, some even older than me. When I am able to convince even one child to quit street life, go to school or go back to their families, I get emotional.
When I grow up I want to champion the vulnerable children and secure better and safer lives for them.