Here are the excerpts from the interview with Suma Ravi, Regional Director (South), Child Rights and You (CRY).
Can You Explain The Event-Soccer For Child Rights?
SR: Children are at the core of Child Rights and You- CRY’s existence. We work with on-ground NGOs and collaborate with them to address child rights. One such project, the Vyasarpadi Children’s Empowerment Project working with the children from Vyasarpadi had an ambitious idea to address child rights issues through football, which laid the foundation for ‘Soccer for Child Rights’.
Vyasarpadi is the oldest and largest slum in Chennai with over 1.5 lakh people who call it home. The community was troubled by violations towards children who faced a lot of societal challenges such as rampant instances of Child Marriage and Child Labor. However, since the inception of the tournament and sustained effort to track and intervene on the above-mentioned issues has shown a remarkable change in the community.
CRY in association with Vyasarpadi Children Empowerment introduced the tournament-‘Soccer for Child Rights’ with a humble beginning at Chennai in 2014. The event saw the confluence of two strata from the society as employees from corporate participates to play against the players of Vyasarpadi, to raise awareness and motivate each other in working for child rights. Today this has gained momentum to become one of the biggest events which CRY organises.
How Has Soccer Helped In Motivating Children To Take Up Education?
SR: We along with our project partner track children who are at the high risk of dropping out of school. We bridge conversations with several stakeholders, like parents, teachers, peers and other community members to bring about a system where the child is supported and encouraged to continue education.
Soccer or any sport gives the child an edge to channelise their energy constructively while giving exposure to their talent needed in an environment where the same can be continued along with education. Peer examples and opportunity are the main factors that propel children to continue studies along with sports.
Today the Vyasarpadi Children Empowerment project areas cover covers six slums and 2061 children. This year 212 number of children from class 10 appeared for the board exams and all of them passed and moved to the 11th standard, whereas for class 12, 76 children appeared for the exams and 74 of them passed, and a large number of them have been associated with soccer or has been motivated and encouraged by their peers and friends who have taken serious liking towards the sports.
How Impactful Such An Event Has Been For The Girl Child?
SR: Change is a journey. Today, an increasing number of girls are playing soccer and thereby breaking the notion of soccer being a male-dominated sport. These girls are not just playing but excelling at the highest level and thus becoming a role model and a positive example of a change in the community and within the peers. This, in turn, is inspiring other children of following their footsteps in continuing education along with sports.
For example, Bheemabhai who won the Ashoka youth Venture award this year and Shakthi who has represented the Indian team in the International Match for Slum children in Paris (France) and is also a trained referee having recognized by the Tamil Nadu Football Association are few of the role models who have come up from this model of intervention.
Every passing year there is an increased interest of the sport within girls. Today the parents of these girls are not only supportive but are also proud that their daughters chose to be different.
What Role Do You Think An Event Like This Plays?
SR: The event provides a great opportunity for corporate teams and children from the marginalized sector to come together on a same platform, united by sports and help each other learn, motivate and be aware of life in all its shades.
For aspiring players this event gives them a great exposure to follow their passion and get recognised. From Vyasarpadi Empowerment Project there have been multiple examples of children playing in the team, excelling at a competitive level of the sport.
An event like this also provides awareness about the systems required for a child’s growth and development. For eg, we work at strengthening government systems like the anganwadis, schools, and primary health centers thereby creating a protective environment for children. Many from the corporate world are not aware of that what the government provides forms the only safety net for the child. This is a space that allows for such conversations
Also, for corporates who have been supporting us for a long time and believing in the cause, this event gives them a great platform to conduct employee engagement activities and generate more awareness around the sensitive issues of child rights and for Shankara Build Pro, who has been our sponsors for the last 4 years, it’s about showing solidarity for the cause of children.