There are many ways and places you meet new people at the Homeless World Cup: on the training pitch, in the food hall, walking to or from the accommodation or venue, or even, it seems, while doing laundry.
It was through a conversation about where to source some elusive washing powder as well as how to troubleshoot a washing machine that I met Finnish player Bhim Dhungana.
Originally from Nepal, Bhim, who had been learning English since he was a child, translated between his Finnish-speaking teammates and English-speaking me. (For the record, I gave them some detergent and they switched washing machines to one that was working.)
A few days later, I caught up with Bhim to find out how a Nepalese national came to call Finland home, and how he did so via a detour living in my Australian hometown.
Bhim’s parents own a trekking store in Nepal. He met his Finnish now ex-girlfriend when she came to the store.
“She came to buy something and I met her there and we started talking …” Bhim says.
The couple later moved to Brisbane, Australia. When Bhim’s girlfriend had to move back to Finland, he went with her.
Does Finland feel like home? “It does,” Bhim says. “Finland for me feels like home because I have a lot of friends over there and I studied there, I had my profession over there. For me, I was born in Nepal but grew up in Finland, you know?”
Team Finland is comprised of players recovering from addiction.
“In Finland, we don’t have that much of a problem with homelessness,” Bhim says. “Our main problem is with addiction.”
He’d grappled with addiction issues first in Nepal, then Australia, then Finland. “I was using, then I was clean. Then after that, when I was in Australia, I again relapsed. I didn’t have any program and then I went to Finland. I wasn’t clean. I was still using.”
Joining a street soccer program helped.
“My plan was never that I would go and play the Homeless World Cup. My plan was that I wanted to have friends, socialise with people. It started from there, and since from childhood I used to play football and I like football a lot, so I started playing football with our team continuously.”
Then he was selected for the 2019 Homeless World Cup.
Throughout the tournament, he was also able to help out, acting informally as a translator—a powerful contribution to the team’s experience (not to mention their ability to clean their football kits).
“There used to be someone who would always translate from Finnish to English [when I first arrived in Finland and was learning the language]. I’m so happy I can give it back.”
“For me, the match is not about winning or losing. If this tournament hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t met all of these people … these are the wins for me rather than a game winning, you know? We are winning all the time meeting new people. So this is amazing,” Bhim says.
The fact that the 2020 Homeless World Cup is heading to Tampere, Finland, means that, unlike most players, Bhim will get a chance to experience the tournament a second time.
Whether it’s as a translator or in some other capacity is yet to be determined. What’s certain is that it’s an opportunity Bhim will relish.
“It’s not only playing football but also socialising and having friends. Being involved in this team has helped me socialise and meet new friends. I don’t want to miss this chance, you know?”
Words: Fred Crawford
Images: Daniel Lipinski/Soda-Visual