This is the true story behind the Homeless World Cup viral video of the week.
Stella Mavridou’s celebration as she picked up the ball during a match against Argentina on Monday has been viewed more than 30,000 times (check it out below). It was shared by many on social media, including governing body UEFA and former England goalkeeper David James.
Her resilience and positive attitude shone through and she has become a true star of the competition. Yesterday, she was recognised with a FIFPro award for fair play.
The 59-year-old is one of four women from the street paper competing in the Greek women’s team. As Stella told us, the Greek team are at the Homeless World Cup: “To do our best and to enjoy every moment of this trip.”
This is Stella’s story, in her own words…
By Stella Mavridou, Shedia
For years I was isolated from the world due to the bad life I had. However, now things have changed and I’m very happy about that.
I’m from Serres [in northern Greece]. I left home at a very young age because I didn’t have a good family life. My father was sick from alcohol. He was violent and mean and that made my mother sick too.
My brother had a disability. My big sister married and left the house. Because I was young, I didn’t understand her decision and I couldn’t handle the situation. I would go to the mountain to escape.
When I was eight I attempted suicide. As soon as I finished primary school, my father put me in a factory to work, even though my teacher insisted that they send me to secondary school because I was good at reading and writing. I left home aged 13-and-a-half. I worked at night in a cafeteria and lied, saying that I was 18.
One day the social workers came looking for minors and they thought I was being exploited. I went home with the social workers, I showed them where I lived and they understood why I wanted to leave. They wanted to help me and they put me to work in a cafeteria owned by a police officer, so that they could also protect me.
Someone saw me there and thought I should become a singer. It was a very tough place and I was very young. I took my dolls and left.
After that they put me in an institution where I stayed for 10 months until the doctors said that that the environment wasn’t suitable for me. In the meantime, my parents entered a psychiatric institution.
I made a deal to go out and work and come back to the institution at night. One day I ran away and went to Thessaloniki to find my sister. She couldn’t help me and sent me back. My parents had left the psychiatric institution, but my mother was like a stranger to me after the electroshock therapy she was given. They had sold the house, but they were allowed to stay until it was demolished. The conditions were awful. We lived without electricity or water.
I got into a relationship, but once his family saw my family, his father didn’t want me and split us up. I left home again, I worked, and I raised money and brought my family to live in Thessaloniki.
My father was drinking again, the residents of the building made a complaint and they threw us out of the house. I survived until something very serious happened and I said I didn’t want to have any more to do with him.
A little while after that, my father died, and a year later my mother died too. When I lost her I lost my mind. I tried to commit suicide again. My brother went completely mad. Four years passed until I could get back on my feet and I tried to have a new relationship.
I became pregnant and they told me to abort it, but I kept it. He didn’t stay with me. Today I have a very beautiful boy who I raised with a lot of love. He is a good family man and he has made me a very happy grandmother with a granddaughter who has the same name as me.
I also helped my brother get better. I wanted to get married so that my child would have a family. I met someone and hurried to get married, but he turned out to be an alcoholic and very violent.
I left, but he left me with many psychological problems. I got mixed up with alcohol and I drank whenever I was sad. I wouldn’t accept regret. I would panic, drink and wake up in the hospital. This man and I would break up and make up again. At one point we reunited but as a couple we were done.
In the meantime, I didn’t want to become a burden to my child. I wanted to work to put aside some money no my own.
I decided to sell buns illegally outside of a church. When I was there a lady who would see me looking sad decided to help me. She introduced me to the Shedia. I came without a second thought.
Since then I’ve been happy. I was in a very bad psychological state and it was like a doctor had seen me. The job is made for me. Everyone hugged me and told me very nice things. Now I smile, it feels like a game, it fills my life.
I didn’t know there were such nice people. Now I see things differently – with optimism. I’m not the only one in a bad situation. I go every Sunday to church and this is how I’ve avoided needing doctors. I don’t drink, I look after my house and I’m happy. I can enjoy the few dreams that remain for me.
I read. I want to remain pure, to have my health and not to fall into unknown hands. God take me in my sleep, like my mother. I want my child to be well. I love people, even those who don’t buy the magazine. They show me love that I haven’t found anywhere before.
Translated from Greek into English by Kristina Ward / Translators Without Borders.
We share stories from our vendors across 35 countries, every Wednesday. Read more here.