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For Monica, 15, being captain means spurring on her team: “Everyone can play as well as me”

Before I started playing football, I was spending a lot of time on the streets of San Salvador. Many children in my country live in extreme poverty and so lots of us go to the streets to support our families by working. I’ve had to do that in the past and some of us have to live there all the time. It’s hard when you see children eating from the rubbish.

I’ve got something good to think about now, though. This week I’m going to Brazil to compete with the girls’ team representing El Salvador in the Street Child World Cup, which starts in Rio de Janeiro on March 28. We’ve been training for months and the team was finally chosen in December from all over El Salvador – and I’ve been named as captain. We’ll be competing against eight other teams of girls from around the world and there’s a separate tournament for 15 teams of boys.

My family don’t really watch football – and they’re a bit surprised by all this – but they’re really happy that I’m going. They know I’ll put everything into being captain. I can’t wait to come back and tell them about my experiences – none of us has ever been to another country.

I’m 15 now but I started playing football when I was six years old. I loved it right away – I’m a very friendly person who likes to share experiences with others and I realised that this was a way to make new friends. My best friend in the team is Beatriz, who plays in goal. Football is a huge passion for many boys and girls in my country because it’s a way for us to show what we’re capable of.

The challenges for us as poor children in El Salvador are huge because we’re surrounded by violence. The streets can be deadly because there are so many gangs roaming around. There are other dangers, too: I’ve seen street kids run over and killed by buses.

I still work on the streets sometimes, selling chewing gum, coffee, toilet paper and sweets with my mother in front of the market where we live. We have to do it because we need the money so that my sister and I can go to school. Apart from that, and attending school and church, I don’t go out much any more. I’m always really happy when I wake up and realise that it’s a Thursday or Saturday because those are the days when we have football training organised by Toybox [a UK charity that funds work with street children across Central and South America]. Their workers have organised for our team to go to Brazil.

Playing football with the girls’ team has changed my life. I’ve discovered new values, or values that I didn’t know I had, like solidarity. Football is about everyone trying their best for the team. I might be the captain but, for me, that’s more about setting an example than ordering the others about.

I happen to be a girl who’s very talented at football and I like to try my best and always think positive. I play in defence so I’m at the back of the field but I also like scoring goals – not for the glory but to show the others what we can do. My job is spurring them on because sometimes they say, “I can’t play as well as you,” and I tell them: “Don’t say that, princess, everyone can play as well as me.”

Of course, I’m very excited to be going to Brazil – it’s going to be fantastic – but what really motivates me is the chance to represent all the children who live and work on the streets in El Salvador and tell them not to give up. My dream is to go to university to study to be a teacher, to help support my family and one day to get married and have my own house.

El Salvador failed to qualify for the World Cup in June, so for us this is like our World Cup. But of course I’ll be watching – especially Lionel Messi, who’s my favourite player.

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