How football can transform lives of young girls? Learn from Yuwa team
This is heartwarming story of ‘Yuwa’, an organization co-founded by Franz, that uses girls’ football to combat child marriage, illiteracy and human trafficking in the rural regions of Jharkand. A group of 18 tribal girls, representing Yuwa India under-14 and competing against 9 other teams, has been in the news recently for securing third position in Spain’s Gasteiz Cup. But the winning team is more in the news for their fight; their fight against official apathy and their fight against patriarchy and societal odds.
The girls were chosen after a careful process that took into consideration their commitment to improving themselves through Yuwa; school and practice attendance; football skill; and importantly their character. Every girl was ranked by her teammates based on these values – positivity, honesty, selflessness and if she inspired unity. The girls of this team were chosen as much by each other as they were by their coaches. Said, Rose Thompson of Yuwa.
Jharkhand, the Yuwa team’s home state, is considered the number one trafficking centre in Asia. The girls here are married as early as 15 years of age, and spend most of their time doing household chores. But now, parents of these girls are proud of them, even though it has been a rocky ride for the team Yuwa. It was even reported that when these girls went to get their birth certificate, required for their visa to play in Spain, they were slapped by the Panchayat members.
Franz Gastler is an American who first came to Jharkhand to teach English. While teaching English in the village of Hutup, outside state capital Ranchi, Franz asked one of the girls what she liked to do in her free time. She said she liked to play football and wished she could play for a team. Franz told her that if she found some other girls who wanted to play, he could lead practices for them. He saw the enthusiasm and dedication of the girls and recognized that a football team could be the perfect platform to promote education and instill confidence. That is how the ‘Yuwa’ started.
Now, girls’ attendances at school have said to be improved. And most importantly, not a single girl from the Yuwa team has married before the age of 18. The program also encourages them to save and earn money.
There is much less resistance now than there was in the beginning. People have seen that Yuwa offers the girls’ opportunities to travel and has brought national attention to their villages. However, even now, not all the parents and relatives are supportive. The reasons for resistance range from girls wearing their football clothes at home to missing housework. Sometimes older brothers or uncles will threaten to beat the girls if they go to practice. Thompson says.
Franz and Yuwa have won awards from Nike Game changers, Yahoo, Barclays, Times Now, NDTV and Ashoka Change makers, and have been featured in countless media including BBC, Bloomberg Business week, Times of India, Hindustan Times, Outlook, The Hindu, Indian Express, Mint, CNN-IBN, Tehelka, People Magazine and others.