Look who we're sending for the Football Cup in the US
18 minor girls from a tribal village in Jharkhand are quite the celebrities in their hometown.
Most girls from rural areas have a similar story to tell. Married off well before they turn 18, living under the watchful eyes of their parents, husband or in-laws, shackled to their fate.
The girls from Yuwa, however, have defied the odds and broken the sorry mould. And how.
Dressed in loose jerseys and football shorts, you will spot them dribbling on the fields, diving, rolling on the ground and scoring goals at a dusty field in rural Jharkhand.
These young footballers made headlines when they brought home the bronze after playing at the prestigious Donosti Cup in Spain in July 2013.
Franz Gastler, executive director and founder of Yuva came down from the U.S. six years ago and made it his mission to train and empower young girls to play football, thereby fighting the evils of child marriage and girl trafficking; a common occurence in Jharkhand.
Apart from daily football sessions, they also have classes in English, Maths, Science as well as classes on women's rights. Additionally, Yuwa spreads awareness on taboos and serious risks surrounding them like girl trafficking and child marriage; to protect them against it.
Jharkhand has one of the highest incidences of child-trafficking, and is consistently at the bottom on most human development indices.
"It is common for girls here to get married after 10th standard," the programme director of Yuwa, Rose Thomson says.
"However, the social network of football is powerful for drawing girls together. It's an inexpensive sport where they make new friends and build support systems for each other," says Rose Thomson, who has been studying how sports can help improve the lives of girls. She is an American native and has been working with in Yuwa in Jharkhand for the last two years.
Now the girls have their eyes set on the next big championship. And no, it's not in Brazil.
The Yuwa girls are now gearing up for their second trip overseas, in America. The USA cup is one of the largest international youth football forums in the world. Yet India has never sent a team to this championship.
In any case, it's been no mean feat for them to make it to where they are today. When they attempted to procure passports at the local panchayat office to head to Spain last year, the officers demanded a hefty bribe from the young girls, humiliated and even slapped them.
Yuwa has been one opportunity for them to inspire other girls to break the confinements of rural and patriarchal Indian society.
"Society teaches girls to fit in. Yuwa coaches girls to stand out," Gastler says.
Thomson confirms that after returning from the tournament in Spain, the number of girls enrolling in Yuwa increased. Today, there are about 150 girls in Yuwa changing their lives in more ways than one.
On a parting note, Gastler says, "A lot of people in India want to do something to help society, but hestitate to finally get down to it. I want to say to them (he chides in fluent Hindi) 'Agar kuch karna chahte ho, toh utho, aur karo' - If you want to do soemthing, then get up, and do it!"
If you want to help the girls reach America for the US Cup, please visit http://www.ketto.org/yuwa#3
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