Come Sunday the dreams, hopes and aspirations for a group of 18 teenage girls from the rural and economically backward districts of Jharkhand will bear fruit as they travel to United States to participate in the renowned Schwan's USA Cup hosted in the city of Blaine, Minnesota. They will further create history by being the first Indian team ever to participate in the tournament.
Their travels and adventures come as the result of an initiative by NGO Yuwa, who helped them start their training as early as 2009. Yuwa, under their American founder Franz Gastler, has gone from strength to strength. The NGO started in 2009 off as an initiative to prevent the trafficking of girls for domestic work and sexual abuses by empowering them through football.
Now, Gastler a political economy post-graduate, is himself is prepping up the girls for the tournament in the USA with the hope that their performances will help them create scope of further education in renowned and established American universities.
The girls are expected to showcase their skills between the 11th and 19th of July. The girls, who come from interior villages such as Hutup, Karma, Koilari and Rukka, have trained for the event in paddy fields due to unavailability of a football field.
The rigorous schedule that makes up their day includes training sessions at the Yuwa centre in English and computer skills before trudging off to school. They then have training sessions between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm besides helping their low-earning parents by involving themselves in domestic work which includes cooking, sweeping and other household activities, all to earn that extra shilling.
"The girls rate each other on wide ranging parameters like discipline, attendance, performance and leadership qualities including honesty, selflessness, unity and positivity. They a core committee assesses the rankings to arrive at a decision," explains a Yuwa participant, on the selection methods used the Yuwa NGO, to the Times of India.
"Hum apne mann ki baat yahan keh saktey hain. Zaroorat mein ek doosre ka saath de saktey hain. (We can share our thoughts here. We can support each other in times of need)," explained another sapling, who believes football unites the gang of girls under a common umbrella and goal like no other.
However, society with its instilled paradigms on women often takes centre stage and the girls found setbacks no less abetting on arriving back to their hometown after a triumphant tournament in Spain where they finished a laudable third. The owner of the land where they used to hold practice, ploughed it so that it could never be used for training again. Since then, they have been running helter-skelter looking for a suitable training field.
In an effort to further their dreams, they approached Gastler who was helping out at a local NGO, who later started Yuwa and was helped in raising scholarships for the girls through the efforts of a few friends.
The group has now expanded to about 150 girls, who under Yuwa’s tutelage study, play football and travel to various localities. The aim of the project is to ensure the girls can stand up for themselves. Youth coaches are drawn from the same community who in turn encourage others from different villages to join.
"There is no social safety net and no one they can reach out to when in trouble. Girls disappear in large numbers but no one knows. In such circumstances football for these girls is proving to be a unifying factor. Here they share and try and find their own solutions," elucidated Franz.