A little help from Spain
Chasing their dream involves a daily 10km walk but Gayatri and Ashwin don’t mind. Such is the adrenaline rush of sport.
If their dreams and that of others in the tiny village of Gummalakunta, some 10 km from Ananthpur, turn into reality, the arid hinterland of Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh wouldn’t be national news only for prolonged droughts or equally unrelenting violence.
Central to sporting aspirations of children between 10 and 13 in this area is the Education and Sports Centre in Bathlapalli. It is an arm of the Rural Development Trust (RDT) which has help from Barcelona and the charity run by Rafael Nadal.
Set up in 1969 by Spanish priest the late Father Vincent Ferrer who relocated from Maharashtra, RDT is now the acronym for succour in this district. Its influence spreads from health services, women empowerment, the environment and includes education. Gayatri and Ashwin are ninth standard students at the RDT school near here.
Two decades ago, RDT decided to provide sports facilities to children in the district and built a cricket stadium at the Anantapur Sports Village (ASV) which has since hosted many Ranji Trophy matches.
“We want to harness the talent in rural India and help improve life,” says Moncho Ferrer, associate programme director, RDT.
It is debatable whether the children here know where Spain is but aware they surely are of the help that comes from there. Walls of the Sports Centre and ASV are virtually plastered by posters and newspaper cuttings celebrating Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph and Barcelona FC stars. They are conscious of the unique Spanish connection established by Father Ferrer and his son Moncho which has resulted in three academies.
In collaboration with three Spanish NGOs — the Fundacion FC Barcelona, an affiliate of the Champions League winners, Stick Amb India, founded by Spanish international hockey player Andreu Enrich and members of Atletico Terrassa Hockey Club and Fundacion Rafa Nadal — Foundacion Vincent Ferrer (FVF), the Spanish arm of RDT, is setting up academies to train children in football, hockey, tennis even kabaddi and kho-kho.
“They heard about our workthrough our supporters in Spain and got in touch with us. I am very proud that a world-renowned club like FC Barcelona has picked Anantapur for its first academy in Asia,” says Moncho.
Barcelona Academy was inaugurated in February by the club president Joan Laporta and work has started on a residential complex at Atmakur, around 5 km from Bathalapalli on the Anantapur-Bangalore road.
At the Education and Sports Centre at Bathalapalli, also supported by FC Barcelona, 105 girls and boys including Gayatri, Ashwini, Manohar and Srikanth are being trained in football, hockey, kabaddi and kho-kho. Some of them even hope to wear the red and blue strip of the Catalan club one day. And that is a dream worth walking 10 km.