In a country subject to gender contrasts and inequality, Franz Gastler says that if there is one thing that can unite the nation, it is football.
According to UNICEF, girls in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand do not grow up with many opportunities. The state is infamous for human trafficking and childhood marriage. In 2008, in a village near Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, Gastler founded Yuwa, an NGO that works with girls from socially and economically disadvantaged families in rural Jharkhand.
Yuwa – which means “youth” in Hindi – is a scholarship program for a group of eight deserving students, three boys and five girls. A couple of years after it began, some of the girls asked Gastler to teach them to play soccer. So Yuwa started a soccer club for the young boys and girls. On the first day of training, only girls showed up. “The boys say they have other options. But for the girls, who are bound to stay at home for household work, soccer is the only medium through which they can exert their independence and leave all the social constraints behind,” said Gastler.
Today, Yuwa has 300 players, more than 90% of which are girls. These girls have participated in world-wide tournaments such as the 2014 Schwan's USA Cup, spoken at universities, TEDx conferences, and symposiums in India and abroad.
In a recent interview with Women and Girls Hub about how the program works and how it helps to ensure that the girls who take part stay in education, Gastler shares the influence of his project.
When asked about what Yuwa aims to achieve in a state like Jharkhand, which has some of India’s worst social and economic indicators, such as high school dropout rates, dowry-related violence and child marriage, Franz answered,” Yuwa empowers girls through team sports and education in one of the most impoverished region of rural India. It focuses on providing girls with world-class education and leadership training. In 2015, we launched Yuwa School, a full-time English medium school for the SCs, STs and the OBCs with the goal of preparing young women for top universities. In 2017, Yuwa will open its first Centre for Girls’ Leadership Development. This school for 320 girls will be a regional hub for sustainable empowerment, and will include a university-preparatory school, leadership hostel, sports training and regional outreach programs. We want to empower these girls into female change-makers in India.”
Gastler also talked about the parents’ resistance towards sending their daughters to Yuwa. “Parents are often reluctant to pay the small fee of up to 500 rupees and also to their daughter dropping back one or two grade levels to be in a class where she is learning well. Our team counsel parents, encourages them to understand the benefits of a quality education for their daughter.”
He further explained why he chose football as the tool to engage with the girls in a cricket-crazy nation like India. “First Yuwa was scholarship fund designed to give diligent students in low-quality local government schools the chance to attend a higher-quality local private school. Girls who were on scholarship would come once a month to collect their school fees and would miss 40-50 days of school easily. Once we introduced football, the girls on the team started to attend school every day, the team encouraged one another to go to school to the point that one rarely missed a day. Our education and health programs are linked and held together by the strength of the football teams – and positive peer pressure. Society tells girls to fit in. Yuwa coaches girls to stand out.”
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