By Merril Diniz:
Every time Padmini V. visits the government school in Merpur village, she’s troubled by a common sight during lunch break. While boys play merrily, the girls just loiter around. At the Tribal Girls Residential Hostel, girls seem afraid to speak during the ice-breaker sessions. Low confidence in girls seems like the norm and something needed to be done to change the status quo felt Padmini, who is here on a 13-month SBI Youth for India fellowship.
Working in the development sector had always interested Padmini who was born and brought up in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. This interest inspired her to pursue a Masters in Development Communication at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre in Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. However, a rigorous grassroots experience could better equip her for her future career path. With this thought, she landed up in a village located over 90 kilometres from Udaipur city.
“As a Fellow, I have the liberty to initiate a project, after assessing the needs of the community,” explains Padmini, who believes that the well-being of girls is a pressing one in a community where early marriage is a dominant issue. “Girls as young as 14, talk about getting married, and due to lack of awareness, some get pregnant at an age when their bodies are not fully developed to give birth,” she adds. So, Padmini is introducing the girls to something children love to do – play.
“To cut across gender stereotypes attached to football, we are now training the girls in this sport,” she shares. Football is an interesting choice, for two reasons. It needs fewer resources and of course, it is one of the world’s most popular sports. Padmini’s hope is that the experience of playing will help to build the confidence, motivation and positive habits that one can imbibe through sports.
To kick things off, Padmini organised a 10-day football training camp in April, for 19 girls from the villages of Kham, Moriya Khuna, Kalidungri and Malviya. The school ground doubled up as a training space. Despite any reservations she might have had, the camp was a success. “The overall attendance was 80%, which is very positive. Some girls were consistent and have demonstrated their sincerity towards playing, regularly,” shares Padmini.
Of course, there were a few hiccups along the way, like convincing a good trainer to come all the way from Udaipur city. However, physical trainer Rohit Pandya proved to be a good sport, and will now be training the girls on a regular basis. Padmini also found an ally in Laduram, the village sarpanch, whose constructive suggestions went a long way in overcoming various challenges. “He has been instrumental from project planning to its execution, from mobilising workers and cleaning up the ground to arranging bamboo for the goalpost,” shares Padmini.
“We had some dropouts but the dedication of the rest really keeps me going,” shares Padmini, who is grappling with some degree of parental opposition when it comes to making football a regular activity.
To address the problem, Padmini aims to continuously engage with parents, even visiting their homes, to discuss the benefits of this new experience. “They need to understand that sports can play an intrinsic role in their daughters’ lives, and it will create a balance, not overshadow studies,” she shares.
Though it’s too early to comment on the impact of the project, one thing is for sure. The camp ignited in these girls the spirit to play. And as Padmini navigates the various challenges of rural life, the wise words of her professor keep coming back to her. “She would say ‘Go slow to go fast’. This phrase makes a lot of sense to me in the context of what I am doing now. Haste doesn’t lead to outcomes; investing time and patience, goes a long way,” Padmini sums up.