Bengaluru-based Navnita, from Class IX was always interested in sports and outdoor activities. But her school was congested and did not even have a playground. Navnita had almost given up on her dream until she was introduced to an after-school programme where she chose football even though she had never played the game before. Navnita’s dedication towards football helped her master the skills of the game. Today, an excited Navnita, whose favourite player is Ronaldinho, says, “I love football! Generally, learning a game like football means paying huge fees. But I’m lucky to have this opportunity to learn the game and use my potential (sic) make use of my potential.”
She is one of the players selected from India to represent the country at the Street Football Festival this year in France. She cannot contain her excitement, “I am so happy to be going to France for the first time because of my love for the game. I want to learn their culture, interact with people there and be a key part of the football festival!”
Being a football enthusiast myself, I was deeply inspired by the story of Navnita and three other determined footballers. They have been selected for the prestigious Street Football Festival in Lyon, France. It’s a well-designed sports initiative of Euro 2016 which aims to play a critical role in enabling a child’s overall development.
Navnita and three other players from humble homes have been supported on this journey by Dream a Dream, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru. The organisation works towards empowering children from low-income families to overcome adversity and inspire change through various creative life-skills.
But, how does playing football lead to the overall growth of these children?
According to Dasra’s report Power of Play, one in three children enrolled in school do not reach grade 10; one in every four adolescent girls is married and 70% employers find Indian youth unemployable despite a degree. Through its research, Dasra establishes that there is a significant impact of free play in childhood on improved academic achievement among children. The organisation Dream a Dream leverages after school art and sports programmes to help children develop life skills and further enhance youth’s ability to gain and retain employment.
Sports is a cost-effective way of promoting healthy behaviour, encouraging education, fostering gender equity, enhancing inclusion and fuelling overall economic development.
These four talented young football players from vulnerable backgrounds have put tremendous effort to participate in the Football Festival.
Navnita is excited to finally be a part of an international event that would give her exposure to different people from across the globe and develop her personal and sporting skills by interacting with other teams.
Manoj has been playing football for four years now. Initially, he did not like it because he could never control the ball. But once he took that up as a challenge and started training, he began to love the game. He feels that the skills learnt in football have helped increase his power to concentrate and also improved his reading abilities. When he comes back, he wants to form a team within his school and help other students.
Vocal about her thoughts, Class X student Harshitha says, “Girls are hardly involved in sports. I want to be an inspiration to other girls so that they come out and play games like football. I have been lucky my mother encouraged me to do what I want. But, I know a lot of girls even in our class who cannot play because their parents do not allow them. I want to show them that we can move ahead not just through studies, but through an interest in sports too.” This Ronaldinho fan says she cannot wait to go to France, “I want to see how others make use of this sport and come back and do the same here.”
15-year-old Arbaz Pasha who likes cricket and football is also thrilled to be a part of the team going to France for the Street Football Festival. When he began playing the game five years ago, he was a novice but with the attention and guidance of his coach, he began to show more interest and discipline in learning the game. Arbaz says, “Apart from discipline, the game has taught me to be positive in life.” With aspirations of becoming a police officer, Arbaz is super excited to be a part of the festival.
The story of Navnita and her friends is motivating people to believe that all it takes is sheer determination and hard work to inspire change. It is great that Dream a Dream is supporting the aspirations of these kids by raising funds for them through social crowd funding websites.
All images shared by Nishreen Bandukwala.