Karachi United is a football development (not for profit) organization working to promote and develop the sport in Pakistan since 1996. Their main objectives are the grassroots development of football, achieving football excellence and community development through football.
As part of their many initiatives, Karachi United runs its Academy which takes the most talented footballers from their 11 community centers across Karachi.
These centers are in Lyari, Mangopir, Malir, Baldia, and Muaripur, etc. They give these kids advanced coaching in the hope that they will represent Pakistan and beyond in the future.
For four days a week, these kids are coached in an excellence driven environment, pushing them to reach their maximum potential in the sport. As part of their development, the kids from these centers have been given the opportunity to play at the famed FC Barcelona Escola and have also competed against the best teams in the world in China, Qatar, and Spain.
The programme allows these kids, many of whom come from some of Karachi’s most violent neighborhoods, an alternative to a life of street crime, gangs, or organized extortion schemes.
Currently, Pakistan spends less than 2 percent of its annual GDP on education. This means that the country’s booming youth population doesn’t get the resources they need to find jobs. Along with the football training, these kids receive mentoring, career advising, and life skills lessons. Their families are given information on hygiene, disease prevention, and nutrition.
We got in touch with Kareem Kerai from Karachi United and asked him a few questions about this initiative.
He is currently working as the manager of the Youth Academy. He joined Karachi United as a student/player when he was 8 years old. He played in their youth program and senior club team till he left for his undergraduate degree in the US. He returned to Karachi after college and was hired as the manager of the youth academy.
Here’s an amazing free kick by Kareem to show how talented these players are
How do you think that the initiative has managed to create an impact and how do you measure that impact?
The initiative has managed to give these kids a structured environment to play football, life skills lessons, international tournaments, direction and purpose in life, personality and character building, vocational training, and a life away from drugs and violence.
We measure the impact by quantitative feedback from coaches, parents, and peers, regular visits to our Centres of Excellence (CoEs) for data collection, observation and evaluations.
What is the future of the kids that you take it?
Those who are selected for the academy have opportunities to represent their national and provincial teams. Some get to pursue a career as a professional footballer in Pakistan or internationally. Some pursue a vocational career or a career as a coach or in the admin at Karachi United.
Do these kids have families? If so, how do you work that out with them? Some might even be earning for families. How is that aspect balanced out?
Some of the children do have families, while some have unfortunately lost a parent or both parents. We engage the parents and hold meetings in which we explain the benefits their children will receive if they send their kids to Karachi United. We do face challenges with regard to children earning for their families, the first step we take is to understand the reason behind why he or she is being forced to earn for the family. If need be we then counsel the parent or child to re-evaluate this decision. Also, we have children who do earn for their families but make time for training between 3:30-6:00 pm because of their passion and desire to make a career out of football.
How do you select trainers? Can anybody do it or do they have to be professionals?
At the Karachi United Academy, we do have some coaches who are internationally certified. Others are either locally certified or ex-professional players who have represented the Pakistan National Team. We do have coaches who are not certified as well but they are required to go through a rigorous testing process in which their competency is measured before they coach the kids.
What sort of changes have you guys witnessed in kids over time as a result of your program? And is that change sustained even if they choose to leave?
We have seen remarkable changes with the children who have joined Karachi United. There are countless case studies that we have carried out showing the dramatic effect Karachi United has had on their lives. And the change is sustained after they leave.
A short example: Najeeb joined our Lyari center years ago. At the time, he was a drug dealer. Thanks to his positive experience at Karachi United, he no longer sells drugs and is not only an employee at Karachi United but also a professional player for our senior team.
More power to you guys! Such initiatives push the society towards a better outlook and help people become more inclusive. Everyone deserves a chance at life and to be able to build such a platform is genuinely an inspiration. Kudos!