THEY were spared from child labor as foster families embraced them and continue to nurture and love them; giving them ample opportunities to grow and excel.

Even in the most challenging situations, growing up in foster care and in an entirely new environment, three girls from the SOS Children's Villages in Davao City defied all odds to make a date with history: Play in the championship match of the 2014 Street Child World Cup in Brazil's old stadium, Fluminense Football Club.

Just representing Team Philippines to the tournament was already a great honor for Agot Danton, Joy Roces Chavez and Maylene Albaracin but steering the country to a runner-up finish left marks of fulfillment, acceptance and self-confidence in their hearts. Yet, they remained grounded, unassuming and grateful.

Joy, 16, hailing from Padada, Davao del Sur, couldn't contain her elation over a full scholarship grant she got from the University of Sto. Tomas after the Brazil stint. She is expected to leave for Manila before classes start this month.

"Daghan sab nag offer nako ang FEU, UP Los Banos, UP Diliman pero mas ganahan man ko sa UST kay dunay taga-Davao na ngadto sa ilang football team ug maayo daw ang medical courses sa UST (I also received offers from the Far Eastern University, University of the Philippines in Los Banos and Diliman but I opted for UST since someone from Davao is already a member of their football team and that they have the best medical courses)," Joy, who wants to be a veterinarian, told Sun.Star Davao in an interview at their SOS soccer field.

Aside from a full scholarship, Joy, who graduated from High School at the Holy Cross of Davao College Bajada, will also avail of a P2,500 monthly allowance and P350 meal allowance per day at UST. She plans of taking up Biology as preparatory course.

The 18-year-old Agot, of Matina Pangi, "Nalingaw ko sa among pagdula sa Brazil. Dream come true jud siya. Pwede diay na maski sa kalsada nagpuyo nga matupad ang pangarap. Basta tiwala lang sa sarili (I really had a great time playing in Brazil. It was indeed a dream come true. I realized that dreams come true even for someone who lives in the streets)."

She was amazed to see how big football is in Brazil, adding: "Sikat kaayo ang football sa Brazil, gusto sab ko musikat. Bisan asa lagi mi muadto dunay futsal o football field, maski sa tulay. Kung unsa ang basketball diri mao ang football sa ilaha (Football is very popular in Brazil, I also want to be popular. Wherever we go, there's a futsal or football field, even on a bridge. What basketball is to us is what football is to them)."

She plans to take up Medical Technology when she graduates from High School and become a national team athlete.

May, 16, a native of Compostela Valley, said the Street Child World Cup was the most memorable experience in her life.

"I met new friends, learned new culture. Football is not just about scoring a goal but it's meeting new friends, learning values and growing from experience. Dili na kaayo ko init ug ulo. Lisod ko mudawat ug pagkapildi pero karon hapi na (I'm not hot tempered like before. I can accept defeat now with a smile)," said May who will join Joy at UST next school year. She wants to be a pathologist.

She couldn't forget playing the finals game against Brazil where the Filipinas lost, 0-1. "Sa ere palang lagi ang bola, mulupad na sila (They would go after the ball even if it's still on air)," May said admiring the skills of the Brazilians.


The long road to Brazil, however, didn't come easy for these SOS booters.

Joy was given to SOS care since she was five months old along with her elder brother Christopher. Her biological mother allegedly promised to visit her on her fifth birthday but she never came.

"Wala nalang nako to gihuna-huna ngano wala sya niabot. Gikalimtan nalang nako. Hapi ko nga nia ko sa SOS, naka-eskwela ko, nahimo kong player ug nakadula ko sa Brazil. Dako na kaayo ning blessing sa akoa (I just didn't think about why she didn' come, I'm forgetting it. I'm already happy to be here, to be able to study, became a player and had been to Brazil. These are blessings to me)," Joy said.

She was lured to football at age seven. It was one of those ordinary days when she would dribble the ball but then SOS coach Leonor "Wowie" Satorre, a former national athlete, saw her and encouraged her to play the sport. But Joy begged off saying that she doesn't have soccer shoes.

Joy recalled, "Ingon ni coach maski rubber shoes lang usa so niapil ko (Coach said rubber shoes will do for the meantime so I joined)."

The five-foot-four goalie used rubber shoes in local competitions that the team participated in. It was only three years later that her foster mother at SOS bought her a new pair of soccer shoes.

Agot, meanwhile, came from the Missionaries of Charity orphanage before she was transferred to SOS when she was six. Her mother died at age five. She along with her siblings Rushelle, now 19, Michelle, now 16, Mickey, now 15, and Ian, 10, share a four-bedroom home with five other foster brothers and sisters at SOS.

When their foster mom would go to the market or do an errand outside the village, Agot would sneak to play football at the small field. She was nine years old then. It was only a year after that she at last became full-pledged football player. She was first a defender then became a striker and is very good at it. She netted most goals of the Philippines in the Street Child World Cup and bagged the Golden Boot Award for scoring most goals in the entire tournament.

"Swerte kaayo ko. Gidala ko ni God diri sa SOS. Naa koy balay, pamilya ug kaugmaon (I'm so blessed God brought me here with a home, family and good future),"Agot added.

On the other hand, May was six when she was brought to SOS. Her mother just passed away.

One day in December 2010, she watched those playing football at the SOS field even though it was raining. The ball went her way and when she took it to return to those who were playing, the coach urged her to join. May trained with a pair of worn rubber shoes but got her soccer shoes in time for her first tournament, the Acosta Cup. And the rest was history.

May said, "Wala ko mag-expect nga maapil ko sa tim para Brazil. Daghan kaayong mga maayong players diri sa Dabaw (I didn't expect to be chosen for the Brazil-bound team. There are many good players here)."

She's happy to had come out of her senses after rebelling for one whole year in 2012. She had somehow lost her way with barkadas outside the village. She went out every night and returned home by 4 a.m. each day. She managed to sleep for a few hours before attending her classes during the day.

May was sent back to her relatives in Comval but she didn't like it there. She was given another chance to stay at SOS and stayed repentant.

"I'm very thankful for this chance that was given me," May said in the vernacular.

Paying Forward

One thing is certain when Joy, Agot and May finish college and land jobs, they're going to pay forward.

Agot said, "Ungta maging successful ko para matabangan pud nako ang mga ubang bata diri ug akong mga igsoon (I hope I become successful so I can help the other kids here and my siblings as well)."

She urged other SOS children to value what they have and the opportunities given to them. "Naa na tanan diri sa SOS. Naay ubang bata ginasayangan lang nila (Everything's here. Other kids just waste it)."

Joy said she will help her SOS family, too, adding, "Ungta madatu ko para makatabang ko sa ilaha (When I get stable, I will help and support them)."

May also vowed to return and offer her services to the SOS kids and families.

"Mubalik ko, mutabang ko (I'll return, I will help)," May added.

The Street Child World Cup was a stepping stone to reaching their dreams as hefty scholarship offers from UAAP teams continue to come their way.

Circumstances may have not given them choices from the start, but not this time anymore. They know what they want. They are certain what would become of them when they pursue their dreams with the discipline and dedication they learned from football and from the foster families who embraced them.