In recent days, the story of a group of children aged between 10 and 14 getting a guided tour of Old Trafford by none other than Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata has been creating a buzz on social media.
Mata, Manchester United’s attacking midfielder, is a footballer first and foremost but unlike many of his contemporaries, the Spaniard is a living embodiment of the fact that football and education go hand in hand.
Armed with a degree in journalism from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, the 29-year-old has also completed distance learning degrees in sports science, physical education and marketing.
It came as no surprise when Mata announced the launch of ‘Common Goal’ in August this year, an initiative to which he pledged one percent of his salary and requested his fellow professionals in the game to do the same.
The initiative aims at supporting football charities around the world that create an impact at the grassroots levels and within two months of its launch, the initiative has seen dozens of football stars including the likes of Mats Hummels and Giorgio Chiellini sign up to the pledge.
One such charity which will benefit from Mata’s noble initiative is the OSCAR (Organization for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility) Foundation based in Mumbai.
Started in 2006 by Ashok Singh Rathod along with two other founding members, the foundation, through football, instils the value of education and empowers underprivileged children and youth with life skills to take responsibility of their community development.
Ashok set up the organisation ten years ago when he was only 18. An energetic, focused and inspiring role model, he now has over 3,000 boys and girls in the Oscar family, playing football and going to school.
It was his foundation which was at the forefront when Mata visited Mumbai earlier this summer in a bid to see for himself the workings of an organization he had decided to support with his Common Goal program.
The Spaniard landed in India with his long-time partner Evalina Kamph to meet the children of the Oscar Foundation in the 60,000 strong slum of Ambedkar Nagar.
The images of the Manchester United player taking on a group of young kids made its round around various publications back in the UK. The Spaniard was enamoured by the work undertaken by Ashok and co and extended an invitation to the children of the foundation to visit Old Trafford in Manchester.
In the end, the two-week tour of the United Kingdom undertaken by the 14 lucky youngsters came about after sustained efforts from Lucinda Showerbutts. Inspired by Ashok’s work and seeing for herself the hugely positive effect the OSCAR foundation has on the slum community, she conceptualized this tour and led the fundraising in the UK.
“Ashok is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. It was impossible to walk away without doing something to help. I wanted to be part of the Oscar family. My four children have all been fortunate enough to be part of overseas sports trips and I wanted the OSCAR children to have the same opportunity,” Lucinda commented.
The children, who have never left India before and are the first members of their families to have passports, flew to the UK to be part of a life-changing experience, thanks to the sponsorship from a number of Gloucestershire businesses, local schools and individuals.
Accompanied by their coach Maruti Chauhan and Rathod himself, the children completed a plethora of activities in their fortnight sojourn of the UK. Five schools which played a prominent role in raising funds for the tour hosted the touring party during their stay.
Apart from participation in school lessons and activities, the tour included a trip to the London Eye, accompanying musical icon, Elaine Paige to The Lion King, a visit to Windsor Park, a Go Ape encounter and a Chelsea FC training session.
One of the highlights of the tour was the children’s visit to Old Trafford where they were given a personal guided tour of the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ by Mata himself.
A cute video of the young starry-eyed kids exclaiming ‘Jai Mata di’ while posing for a picture with the Manchester United man quickly became popular. Perhaps it was fitting that a visit to the theatre of ‘Dreams’ was on the menu for the children in their first ever overseas visit of any kind.
What was even stunning was the fact that the children from the OSCAR Foundation went undefeated in the 10 football matches they played against local schools.
The children who have grown up in the slums of Mumbai gave an exemplary account of themselves against the local schools by winning a whopping seven matches! Despite never having set foot in a foreign land before in their lives, the youngsters showed great resilience to adapt to the harsher climes of Britain during their two-week tour.
Now back in the familiar surroundings of Mumbai, the work of the OSCAR Foundation continues in earnest with the UK exposure trip serving as a benchmark of the progress it has made in these 10 years or so.
“We hope to keep giving such opportunities to our children in the future. The ethos of Oscar is leadership; the objective of the tour was to inspire and educate our beneficiaries who in turn will inspire and lead thousands more from the community. It was an effort to make our children experience a different life and to realise that hard work really can pay off and pave the way to a brighter future,” says the founder Ashok.
The goal of Juan Mata and OSCAR Foundation is the same: To inspire thousands more at the grassroots level through the medium of football. That ‘common goal’ is definitely starting to see the fruits of its labour manifest already and may it continue to do so for the foreseeable future.