There are one billion homeless people in the world today. While addressing the problem may seem overwhelming to some, Dheerender Velu, an IBM senior integration consultant living in Australia, has seen that one of the ways to change homelessness is through a person's feet.
Dheeren, as he likes to be called, is a volunteer coach and referee for the Homeless World Cup football (or soccer to you Americans) tournament. The Homeless World Cup is an annual, international football tournament that unites teams of people who are homeless and excluded, teaching them play soccer and then sending them on to represent their country in the tournament. The event supports grassroots football projects in over 70 nations, working with more than 30,000 homeless and excluded people each year.
"I've always been associated with soccer and had been doing some coaching. Then the opportunity to work with the Homeless World Cup came through the OnDemand Community (ODC) and it caught my attention," Dheeren says. ODC is a global community that combines the skills of over 174,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to IBM technology, training, and support.
The first tournament took place in Graz 2003 uniting 18 national teams. Fifty-six nations were united for the games in 2008, located in Melbourne, which included the first Women's Cup. In 2010, 64 nations participated in the World Cup games.
"Each country puts together a team of ten players and a few substitutes. They train and coach them. They're sponsored for these games and then they unite at the world cup tournament," says Dheeren, who not only coached the Australian team, but got to attend the games in Melbourne. "I continued to coach even though I didn't get to attend the games in Milan, Italy in 2009 or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2010."
"The impact that it has on the people is significant," he continues. "Representing their country in such a big tournament, it gives them a big boost of confidence. The stats show that 73% of people who play in the games change their lives for the better – getting off drugs and alcohol, moving into new jobs, and reuniting with their families. Some of them even go on to become coaches or players for semi-pro football teams."
Of course, not everyone is homeless because of drug or alcohol problems. "We say people are either homeless or excluded," Dheeren says. "For instance, we had an Afghanistan team – who won the World Cup in 2008 – and they were homeless because of the war, not because of any personal reason."
Dheeren has played football with semi-pro teams most of his life, but is now coaching more than he is playing. "I really like the coaching and training. I've been working a lot with juniors. I’m working on getting formal training and certifications so I can coach junior football teams."
Of course, Dheeren still gives his time to the Australian homeless team, as well. This year's homeless world cup will take place August 21-28 in Paris, France.
IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.