In 2016, pictures and videos of 5-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi wearing a Lionel Messi jersey made from a plastic bag while playing soccer in Afghanistan went viral on social media.
Unable to afford a real Messi jersey, Ahmadi’s brother made him a blue-and-white Argentina jersey out of a plastic bag with “Messi” and “10” written on it in marker.
The world’s fervor and passion for soccer, proudly displayed via one’s jersey, is being utilized not only as a symbol for celebration, but also as a means for change. Bring Your Kit to Work Day is an initiative created by NYC Footy founder Tarek Pertew to help raise awareness for the more than 150 million children around the world living on the streets.
Scheduled for June 14 in conjunction with the first day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Bring Your Kit to Work Day asks participants to wear a soccer jersey to work, post a photo on social media, and encourage others to do the same. Former and current professional athletes, including David Villa, Alexi Lalas, Tiki Barber, Ingrid Silva, Charlie Davies, and Jay Williams, will be supporting the efforts.
“A soccer jersey has a lot of symbolism with street children; they’ll be playing with a jersey on, but no shoes,” Pertew says. “Just like people wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, we hope to build a campaign where people wear soccer jerseys to raise awareness for this cause.”
The mission is in collaboration with Street Child United, an organization that aims to harness the power of soccer to “protect, respect, and support homeless and street-connected children” around the world, including the 500,000 American children impacted by a broken home, abuse, addiction, or being forced to live or work on the streets.
Working with organizations that assist homeless and street-connected children, Street Child United creates participatory events—including the quadrennial Street Child World Cup—to aid those in need. Through their partnerships and events, the organization supports homeless and street-connected children to build a life away from the streets.
“We are so out of touch with how children are surviving around the world and this is an opportunity to raise some of that awareness,” Pertew says.
In association with Save the Children, the 2018 Street Child World Cup took place from May 10-18 in Moscow. More than 200 children representing approximately 20 nations enjoyed soccer tournaments, a Model United Nations participatory Congress, and a festival of arts.
Street Child United’s efforts have already paid dividends and resulted in change, with Team India receiving a government commitment to birth registrations for millions of street children across the country, a government resolution enacted in Pakistan to protect 1.5 million street children in the nation, and a safe space soccer field built in Rio de Janeiro.
“We want as many people as possible to be wearing a jersey on June 14,” Pertew says. “There are loads of great benefits if it happens.”
NOTE: First appeared on Culture Trip