Jhark­hand’s teen foot­ballers hit the big league in Spain

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - Am­bika.Pan­dit@ times­group.com

New Delhi: Seema Ku­mari couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter birth­day gift as she turns 15 to­day. The Class IX stu­dent from Jhark­hand’s Or­man­jhi dis­trict, who held her first foot­ball at the age of 10, is among a se­lect bunch (in pic­ture) picked to join a train­ing course for coaches by Real So­ciedad’s La Liga team in Spain.

The group of 10 — eight girls and two boys from Jhark­hand’s vil­lages — landed in Spain on Fri­day af­ter­noon. Over the next few weeks, they get to pick up coach­ing skills from some of the best train­ers in the game. As­so­ci­ated with Jhark­hand-based Yuwa — an NGO that seeks to con­nect young­sters in Or­man­jhi to ed­u­ca­tion through fo- ot­ball — each of them will train and then lead a team drawn from the vil­lages.

On Oc­to­ber 2, they hope to re­turn home armed with skills to em­power their teams.

The young coaches will meet and train with play­ers from Real So­ciedad (Royal So­ci­ety), a club that plays in the La Liga, the top league of Span­ish foot­ball, at­tend a block­buster match in Bil­bao aga- inst Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Real Madrid, and also meet San Se­bas­tian’s mayor, Eneko Gola.

Speak­ing to TOI from Spain, one of the girls, 16-year-old Chanda Ku­mari, says she is a big fan of Ar­gen­tine foot­baller Lionel Messi. “Humb­hi­unki­tarhaan for­ward kheltey­hain (I also play as a for­ward like him),” she says.

Chanda, whose par­ents are daily-wage con­struc­tion work­ers, be­gan play­ing foot­ball in 2009 and now leads a team of 15 girls drawn from dif­fer­ent vil­lages. The jour­ney has been tough. There was re­sis­tance from her fam­ily and her de­ci­sion to wear shorts to play was abig road­block. “I was de­ter­mined to play foot­ball along with my stud­ies and so I kept go­ing for the coach­ing classes at 4.30am. See­ing my ded­i­ca­tion my fam­ily came around and my mother be­came my big­gest sup­porter. Now I coach a team we call Ga­gari Smile. It is named af­ter the vil­lage we play in. We play in the open ground, as there is no ded­i­cated foot­ball sta­dium or field there,” says Chanda.

Seema, who comes from Dahu vil­lage, coaches a team of 20 girls who call them­selves ‘Su­per Kids’. Like other girls, she too faced re­sis­tance from vil­lage el­ders who felt foot­ball was for boys. But her par­ents sup­ported her.

Her fa­ther works in a cot­ton thread fac­tory and mother is a house­wife. She wants to grow up to be a soft­ware en­gi­neer. And foot­ball is her route to em­pow­er­ment. “Humein com­pete karn­abahutachha lag­ta­hai (I re­ally like to com­pete),” she says. Lead­ing his team of young coaches is Yuwa In­dia Trust co-founder and coach Franz Gastler. “So­ci­ety teaches girls to fit in. Yuwa coaches girls to stand out,” he ex­plains.

“With sup­port from BookASmile, we couldn’t be hap­pier to be giv­ing the first group of In­dian coaches the chance to train with a La Liga team. We chose these eight young women and two young men from our 35 coaches who lead prac­tices for 270 girls and 30 boys in Jhark­hand ev­ery morn­ing.”

Yuwa has been work­ing in the Or­man­jhi area for the past seven years. The school dropout rate is high among girls here, as are the in­ci­dences of early marriage, gen­der-re­lated vi­o­lence, and hu­man traf­fick­ing.

The eight girls and two boys from Jhark­hand’s vil­lages will meet and train with play­ers from Real So­ciedad (Royal So­ci­ety), a club that plays in La Liga

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