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This Girl’s Tennis Journey From A Small Village In Andhra Is Truly Inspiring

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Pallavi’s story is an inspirational story of change. From a village called Muddalapuram, Pallavi’s decision to join the Nadal Educational and Tennis school (NETS) in 2010 changed her life in more ways than one. Over the last 8 years, she has transformed not only into one of the centre’s best players, but also into a helpful, positive and confident human being.

Photograph by Antony CJ

The Rural Development Trust (RDT) established NETS in Anantapur in partnership with the Rafa Nadal Foundation in 2010, with a focus on the education and holistic development of young children. The centre is located in the Anantapur Sports Village (ASV). It is  a residential sports campus created by RDT’s sports sector, the Anantapur Sports Academy. Children are provided with tennis equipment and clothing as well as state-of-the-art tennis infrastructure. Education, health and nutrition are the major focus areas of the development program at NETS. All children are provided with daily English and computer classes along with their tennis sessions.

Starting At NETS

After growing up in Muddalapuram, where her father owns a small business, Pallavi shifted to her grandmother’s house in Anantapur  in 2010 with a view to attend a better school. Once in Anantapur, her cousin convinced her to join NETS. She had never played Tennis before, but knowing that it isn’t a sport most people even in cities have easy access to, Pallavi felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down and soon became a regular at the centre. NETS uses scientific training methods to help children learn the sport. Students also attend English and computer classes conducted by qualified and professional teachers. This gives most children access to lessons they don’t receive at home or at school.

When Pallavi arrived, she couldn’t speak. She needed others to translate for her when interacting with coaches and staff. Now, she speaks English fluently and is very comfortable while having a conversation with almost anyone. She credits the organization for this improvement because she was never taught spoken English at school. Everything was by the book and that is completely different to using the language in the real world. “Pallavi has changed a lot since joining the centre. She attended sessions regularly, made friends and settled in very quickly. Her passion for tennis was very clear to see from early on. Coming from a small government school, she learned a lot through the English and computer classes at NETS”, said T. Krishna, who has been teaching computer classes at NETS since 2010.

Photograph by Roberto Rodriguez

In 2015, Pallavi’s cousin shifted to Bangalore and  didn’t have anywhere to stay in Anantapur. Her parents wanted her to return to the village. However, recognising that her move back to the village could hinder all the progress she had made since joining NETS, Moncho Ferrer, the Director of Programs at RDT, along with Raduan El Chaoubi and David (The NETS Coordinators at the time), helped her stay in Anantapur. After convincing her parents, she joined the residential program for athletes at Anantapur Sports Village and shifted to the RDT inclusive school in Anantapur, where she studied till 10th grade.

Playing Tennis At the NETS centre,  Pallavi picked up a racket for the first time, but it seemed to come to her naturally. She went from strength to strength as she quickly picked up the game. Soon enough, she was travelling to cities such as Bangalore, Delhi and Pune to participate in national tournaments. The courts in Anantapur are made of clay, which meant that the synthetic courts at the tournaments proved to be difficult but she coped with them well and learnt a lot while playing on a different surface. “My favourite memory playing tennis is definitely travelling to tournaments. I played really well in Delhi and Maharasthra and even reached the semi finals at an U-14 National tournament. “ When asked about why she likes tennis and not more popular games in the region such as hockey, football or cricket. Pallavi said that she prefers Tennis because it’s an individual game. She enjoys the fact that she is in full control of the match and prefers it over having to depend on others like one would when part of a team.

Photograph by Antony CJ

“Her passion for tennis makes her stand out above others at the centre”, said Vishal Vijayakumar, the current NETS coordinator, echoing his colleague T. Krishna’s words. “She really loves the game and I believe she is more than good enough to play at AITA tournaments.”, he continued. Off the court, Pallavi believes that tennis has helped her improve her communication skills. Knowing that she can talk and interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures as well as handle herself well outside of Anantapur at tournaments has filled her with a lot of self-confidence.  

Education, Coaching And The Future

Though Pallavi is an extremely talented tennis player, she accepts that perhaps becoming a pro here in Anantapur could be hard to achieve. She’s always kept one eye on the future and her studies are very important to her. After studying at the RDT inclusive school and finishing junior college, she is now in the first year of her undergraduate degree, pursuing a Bachelor’s in Commerce. She enjoys studying subjects like accounts and economics and tries to give it as much time as possible. Her parents want her to become a police inspector in the future, but she’s not too sure she can see herself in that role.

Her aim is also to work in a field where she can positively impact the lives of others, but she isn’t sure where or what that job will be just yet. Perhaps, that is where coaching comes into the picture. Last year, Pallavi became a volunteer coach at the Tennis Centre. Arguably the best player at the centre, she trains during a slot later in the day and coaches younger children from the earlier batches. Former Tennis Coordinator Xisco encouraged Pallavi to take the step up to being a coach and she hasn’t looked back since.

Photograph by Antony CJ

In December, after discussing it with her parents, Pallavi travelled to Mumbai to do the AITA level 3 course at the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association. Tennis Coordinator Vishal said, “Convincing Pallavi’s parents was a challenge. However, we had a meeting with them to explain the benefits and importance of the license for her development and they finally agreed to send her to Mumbai. It was the right age for her to do the course and the fact that she is such a good player made it a lot easier for her.”

Though Pallavi doesn’t know what the future holds, she feels that coaching is something she wants to consider and doing this coaching course has only made that clearer. “I enjoy coaching, it’s great to teach and learn from children. Going for the AITA level 3 course was a dream come true and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about preparing sessions and motivating children. I feel that after the course, I am much better at communicating with children and rectifying their mistakes’ said Pallavi, who has become the first certified female coach in Anantapur and possibly the entire state of Andhra Pradesh after passing the week-long intensive course in Mumbai.

Photograph by Antony CJ
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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