Football a life-changer for these young Jharkhand girls
When reigning Spanish and European champions Real Madrid visited the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian for a La Liga game against Real Sociedad in September, eight young Indian girls accompanied the teams to the pitch ahead of kick-off.
While their hosts, Real Sociedad, lost the game 1-3, it was a memorable moment for the girls from Ormanjhi in Jharkhand.
Part of a 10-member coaching contingent from Jharkhand-based NGO Yuwa, invited by Sociedad for a training program, the young girls returned from the trip a happy bunch.
“We have gone to Spain on previous occasions to play in the Donosti Cup. This time we had gone there to learn,” said 17-year-old Sunita Kumari.
It was a unique experience for the girls who train younger kids back in Ormanjhi, a village on the outskirts of Jharkhand capital Ranchi, and surrounding areas.
“We were taught how to teach different things to kids in different age groups. For instance, a coach has to tailor training session according to the ages of the players being trained. We have learnt a lot in this regard from this trip,” Seema Kumari, a 15-year-old student in the Yuwa-run school, explained.
With most of the coaches being in their mid-teen years, it isn’t an ordinary role for any of the girls involved.
Juggling football and books
In 2008, Franz Gastler, an American national who was teaching children in Jharkhand as part of an NGO at the time, founded Yuwa with the help of a few friends.
It was his idea of combating child marriage and illiteracy among girls in the area. In 2009, Yuwa took shape as a football institution.
In less than a decade’s time, Yuwa now runs a full-fledged school with 90 students in its ranks. When it comes to football, the young coaches from the school have helped expand the program to areas near Ormanjhi.
As of today, 300 kids train daily under the guidance of these coaches. Close to 270 of these trainees are girls, Gastler told Hindustan Times.
The programme covers players from 15 villages, with the coaches also coming from the same villages.
In India, grassroots football programmes for young girls are rare. Yuwa’s project has extended beyond football and has helped in the battle against marriage of minor girls in the area.
“Yuwa does more than simply delay marriage until the age of eighteen—we are enabling girls to break out of the cycle of poverty and make powerful decisions about their future,” Gastler explained.
However, using football to combat child marriage is easier said than done. If a girl doesn’t actively resist, it is often difficult to convince her parents against dropping her out of school and forcing her into a marriage, bemoaned Gastler.
Despite the challenges, he said the organisation aims to build a network of supportive families.
Football not the only goal
“The biggest improvement for all of us here has been in our personalities. We have learnt how to speak and behave in public. Earlier, quite a few of us used to be shy, but that isn’t the case anymore,” explained 16-year-old Monika Kumari.
But is football coaching a viable career in India for these young girls?
Quite a few of these coaches yet to clear high school. While, they could pursue football coaching as a career, many of them are already dreaming of bigger things.
Seema, now studying in the ninth standard, said software engineering is what she wants to pursue. Sunita, who is in the 10th standard, is keen on pursuing MBA, while her classmate Monika wants to become a fashion designer.
Football coaching in the future remains an option, the three agreed, but not at the cost of their dreams.