Can football make a difference to people’s lives? On the surface it may seem too clichéd to be true. But dig just a little into the back-stories of some of the volunteers at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea, and it is abundantly clear that this tournament is genuinely playing a pivotal role in helping people rebuild their lives.

Volunteer Danish Paul pulls back the top of his shirt to reveal a massive indent in his shoulder – it is a gunshot wound suffered as a result of a village dispute. He admits to a background of petty crime following a childhood of very little schooling, but now is actively trying to get his life back on track. Speaking a mix of Tok Pisin and English through an interpreter, Danish begins weeping simply when asked how the tournament has helped him. “I have experienced a change in attitude which I never thought would happen,” Danish, who is working in spectator services, told FIFA.com. “I have learnt how to smile at other people and become a better person. Hopefully it leads to employment.”

The volunteer programme for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is like no other. With an estimated 70-80 per cent of young Papua New Guineans unemployed, the decision was taken to create a programme where young volunteers were given the opportunity to gain a variety of skills and experience, hopefully leading to enhanced self-confidence and future employment. As a result, a large portion of the 1,000 volunteers working at Papua New Guinea 2016 are from underprivileged backgrounds

Altering attitudes to women
A key focus for the volunteer programme and the tournament has been the #ENDviolence campaign. Violence towards women and girls in the region is a widespread problem. But the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup has offered a perfect platform to transform attitudes. Indeed, the Papua New Guinea players have become role-models of sorts enjoying public affection and media attention wherever they have gone.

“I have never experienced violence but a lot of my friends around me have,” says 21-year-old Yori Auma, a volunteer working in accreditation. “This is a big problem here and that's why this campaign is so important.

“This experience has been amazing, I learned so many things in this tournament. Before this started, I was at home, doing nothing special and looking for a job. This experience gave me some confidence for later. Now I want to go to college and become a doctor.”

Fifty volunteers will be selected following the tournament to be #ENDviolence ambassadors in their communities. They will receive further training and will be able to support a broad-based community awareness campaign in 20 shanty towns across Port Moresby.

Dulcie Geroia encouraged her sister to come to Port Moresby with the aim of restarting her life. At the age of 32, Mary Philip had never been employed before, but she made the arduous ten-hour trip to the capital determined to do just that. That was three months ago and Mary says her outlook has changed completely in that short space of time. “This experience has taught me to stand up and face challenges,” she says. “It has been a new experience to meet people from all over the world.”

Dulcie, already living in Port Moresby, says the tournament has allowed women to be more self-confident within themselves and the community. “This has been an opportunity for people to grow, and I have seen so much change in a short time,” she said. “It is wonderful to see so many women involved. I want to see women come out of the shed and shine.”