After 31 hours of travel, Marvin Dulder (30) was one of the first people I met in Santiago de Chile. We were both there for the 12th Homeless World Cup, though I was merely a reporter while he was one of the street soccer stars. We had a long and deep conversation, some of which he asked me not to write about. He wants to look ahead to a bright future, not back to the painful memories. Still, he feels that sharing part of his story might help others in some way.
Marvin was 15 years old when he moved from the former Dutch colony of Suriname to the Netherlands with his mother and younger sister. From a protected upbringing by strict grandparents, he ended up in the Bijlmer, which at the time was dubbed Holland’s first and only ghetto. “You used to see addicts at the ATMs and there was crime everywhere”, he recalls. “My mum had to work day and night shifts to make ends meet. I said to her: ‘Why did we not stay in Suriname?’ She always answered: ‘Once I save up enough, we will go to a better area.’”
The street had too many temptations for Marvin. He turned to crime and life became a downward spiral. “You get introduced to boys who make money quickly. You steal something from a shop and then you shift your boundaries.”
He was 24 when disaster struck. He was violently attacked on the street because he had stolen ‘from the wrong guys’. In hospital with serious injuries, he realised: this could have ended very differently. He knew he had to make a choice. “I had to get away from that world. I wanted to do something with my life and find a new focus.”
Football became a way to relieve tension. Together with neighbourhood friends he had a kick around in the local school playground. One day, he was spotted by Haile Afeworki, coach of a street soccer team in the southeast of Amsterdam. He started going along for training sessions and joined the team that eventually went on to win the Dutch Street Cup: the national football competition for people in social welfare programmes. They qualified for the Homeless World Cup to represent Holland in Chile, one year before the tournament will take place in their home city of Amsterdam.
Afeworki became someone who brought respect for honesty, rules and authority back into the boys’ lives. Marvin has nothing but good words to say about his coach: “We are from the Bijlmer and so is Haile. He knows what it’s like there. When we swear or shout to each other, he understands where we are coming from and how we mean it. He is one of us and he believes in us.”
Looking back on his life before street football, Marvin says: “Our world was small. You bought clothes, phones, scooters just to belong, but you still never left the Bijlmer. The Dutch Street Cup gave me the chance to play in all corners of the Netherlands, which was already quite awesome. And now I am here in Chile. We see teams that are much worse off than us and we also see how people here live. It changes your perception. It makes you think: what I’ve got is not so bad after all.”
Once he is back from Chile, Marvin wants to build on his dream career. He initially started business studies, but his heart was elsewhere. He then did a youth work course, where he learned to utilise his passion for sport for greater goals. For a year and a half he worked with an organisation in the Bijlmer, teaching kids sports clinics during school breaks.
“I loved working with these kids”, he recalls. “Sadly there was no budget to continue so I became unemployed and did some random jobs. I’d love to go back into youth work. I see too many kids grow up without a dad, without school, without a job. I want to help them.”
In his own family Marvin tries to be role model too. “My parents got back together in the Netherlands after their divorce. Together with my grandparents they have always supported me. Some boys blame their bad behaviour on their home situation. I would never do that. I was brought up well but I myself made the wrong choices. Now, I am older and wiser. When I see that my cousins don’t want to go to school or do the wrong things, I try to help them. ‘Don’t make the mistakes I made’, I tell them. I am lucky I am still here. But things could have been very different.”
Two years ago, Marvin moved in with his girlfriend whom he has been with for ten years. His attitude towards material things has changed. “When I look back, I think: I had cash, but I didn’t appreciate it. Now, I treat it very differently. I travel with my girlfriend and try to see more of the world.”
Marvin hopes to start his Bachelor degree course next year as a mature student. Meanwhile, he takes any casual work he can get, even if he is actually overqualified for the job. “Sometimes I get frustrated when I am in a warehouse. I think to myself: I know better than the manager how to run this place. But I know it is temporary. I will have to climb my own way to the top.”