Girlpower though football in rural India

Hello! Good morning! What is your good name? To which country you belong? It is almost 5 in the morning, still pitch black outside and freezing cold, but the classroom is full off brightly awake young girls.

Our host and director of Yuwa, Franz Gastler, woke us up at 4:30 and gave us the best (strong) coffee we had since ages and some cookies. Even the coffee couldn’t help keeping our eyes open and with sleeping dust in our heads we followed Franz towards the Rickshaw that was waiting for two football coaches and us.

On our way to the rickshaw we passed a classroom full of girls who where already in the middle of a course. Not sleepy at all and full of life they posed these questions to us. Smiles turned up on our faces and we replied them with ‘Good morning, we are Mandy and Pieter from the Netherlands. What is your name?’

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Yuwa is a NGO in the state of Jharkhand in India that is combating child marriage and girls trafficking through football and education. Close to the capital of Jharkhand (Ranchi) the NGO is based in a small rural village. We got to know Yuwa through Pieter’s Brother Willem, who had lived in Ranchi for over two years. In Ranchi Willem was working for an anti-trafficking organisation and so it happened that he met Franz, the founder and director of Yuwa. Through their bonding effort to help small children, mainly girls, from getting trafficked and get them back to school it happened to be that Franz showed up in the Netherlands at Easter breakfast with the Grimminck family back in 2010. There Pieter met Franz and got enthusiastic by his story of using sport as a tool for development.

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Together with the two Yuwa coaches (former Yuwa girls) and some footballs we got into the waiting rickshaw and got moving into the dark. Under way to the football pitch, which lies one village further, we only encountered some small roadside fires where some peoples where warming their hands and bodies against the cold. The rest of India was still sleeping, but here, coming closer to the pitch, the road became full of life. In the dark we were passing more and more young girls walking or on a bicycle on their way to the field. We also stopped and horned a few times in the black landscape and some really young girls would show up and hopped into the back of the rickshaw.

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Now, here in 2014, we were driving our Royal Enfield through India, following the course of the Ganges, and came close to Ranchi and Yuwa. We knew the stories of what can happen to young girls in Jharkhand, like being trafficked to large Indian cities to work as maid and the child marriages that are going on in this part of India. Franz is characterizing this area as: “Jharkhand is a bit like subsaharan Africa, but in the middle of India. A full 40 percent of the country’s mineral wealth comes from Jharkhand, but the human condition is among India’s worst. Six out of ten girls drop out of school and become child brides, Jharkhand has some of the highest incidents of human trafficking, the worst sanitation situation in India with 92 percent of households lacking access to a toilet, the fewest teachers per government school and more than half of its children below the age of five malnourished.” Here, Yuwa is working in poor communities and with girls from impoverished backgrounds. Inspired by this work and the use of football to empower these girls we asked Franz if we could come by and help him in any way, for instance through Pieter’s football experience or Mandy photography. Franz invited us to Yuwa and we stayed a couple of days at Yuwa’s homebase.

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In the middle of nowhere our driver stopped the rickshaw again and all the girls jumped out of the vehicle and headed their way into the dark. One of the coaches said we were at the pitch and we walked with them. Coming at the pitch there were around 50 to 60 girls getting in to their football shoes, others were already passing the bal around. Facing the cold with shawls and cloths, these girls come here out of own will, before school starts, 6 times a week to have football practice from 5 until 7. It was an amazing experience to see all these girls here together having so much fun. These shy girls turned into self-confidenced amazing team players. The coaches, who themselves have been engaged in the Yuwa program, now have become the inspirational and dedicated coaches for the younger girls.

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The program Yuwa is running consists of football and education. ‘Football is the glue that holds it together’, says Franz. Through football they find a way to express themselves and gain teamwork skills. Without football the program would fail. In the classes they build up the necessary skills to make a next step in life, like going to college, when they leave Yuwa at the age of 14-15. Steps in life that would otherwise be out of reach for these girls, as they would have been taken out of school to work or to marry at a young age. Yuwa is now working in two locations where together about 150 girls are voluntary in the program.

After witnessing some amazing football skills on the field, we went to one girl’s family, together with one of Yuwa’s staff. Yuwa’s program is not free and for a reason. First of all, to encourage financial savings and planning, the girls who form a team have to arrange their own finance in order to get all the necessary gear like footballs and shoes. Next to that, each student have to pay a small amount to follow classes. Without this small fee, there is no participation of the parents in the program and they will more easily get them out of school, Franz argues. Paying directly for school classes also turned out to be unsuccessful. Yuwa is therefore looking into other ways of engaging families into their children’s future. One of these innovations is that Yuwa made arrangements with a nearby hospital. Now the parents can let their children enrol in a health insurance and through that payment the children are eligible to follow classes. The family we visited that morning signed the agreement for their child to enrol in the health insurance and Yuwa classes.

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It was great to see what can happen if you take girls out of their isolation and when they gain self-confidence. Their will to work so hard and to learn has amazed us these days. What we learned from our stay is that there is an enormous strong force within India, namely women, who can make a lot of positive change for India, but who can better explain the power of football for these girls as one of the girls herself. See Kusum in her TedX talk in the movie below.

For more information about Yuwa and to get involved, please visit Yuwa’s website.

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6 comments

  1. Awesome Work! Liked the idea of making parent pay a nominal amount so that they understand the responsibility and importance as well.

  2. This is great work! A friend of mine recently volunteered with Yuwa and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Thank you so much for creating chances and hope for us all.

  3. Great having you here. You’ll always have a spare sofa-cum-bed and sleeping bag (what’s the Dutch word for that?) here waiting for you. Happy travels!

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