One month ago a group of teenage girls from a village on the outskirts of Ranchi in Jharkhand achieved something that sportspersons with the best facilities and support in cities often aspire for, but don’t always succeed.On July 13, the 18 tribal girls representing Yuwa India under-14 all-girls team were placed third among 10 teams playing for the Gasteiz Cup in Victoria Gasteiz in Spain. The girls — a majority of whom played outside their village in Ormanjhi for the first time — were placed third after two wins, two losses, and one draw against international teams. Earlier during the Donosti Cup, Spain’s biggest football tournament, the girls made it to quarter finals from among 36 international teams.The credit for such incredible achievements goes to Franz Gastler,who came from America ,on a mission to India.

The young footballers wearing red and white sarees and sneakers, with plastic flowers adorning their hair and around their wrists, were ecstatic as they won the third prize in Gasteiz, Spain that Saturday night.“We had carried sarna sarees in our bags and some flowers too. When they announced our names we ran into the dressing room and took just five minutes to get dressed in our sarees, then we came out and accepted the prize and then we danced,” grinned Rinky Kumari, 13, the team’s captain back in Ormanjhi. “Yuwa yuwa hum hai yuwa, sab se juda; gendwa ko maarei, netwa ko phaade, mil ke bolo Jai Yuwa (We are young, so special; we are on the ball, we attack the net; all hail Yuwa),” the team breaks into chorus before practice.

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The winners-dancing to glory

“They were cheered everywhere they went. They would break into song and dance always even doing the jhumar (traditional dance) with a team from Spain at San Sebastian. The only time I saw them nervous was the first game,” recounted Sandeep Chhetri Yuwa’s secretary and the team unofficial cheering songs writer.At the afternoon session at Yuwa’s centre at Hutup village, the older girls break into giggles when their peers’ Spain tour is mentioned. “They saw the sea!” the group exclaims. “They told us there was lots of meat , chicken, even pigs meat. There was bread, butter and jam. People there bathe in the sea,” Preeti Kumari, 9, sums up the buzz among the children in Hutup since the girls’ return.

Shivani Toppo, 12, who has played football since Franz Gastler, a 30-year old American founded Yuwa-India in this Jharkhand village in 2009 and was among two girls from Yuwa who had toured with India’s under-14 team in Sri Lanka last year, explains her interest in the game. “It keeps me healthy. If I stay home I do not feel good. Also, Franz sir got all of us ,to go to good schools. He helped my family pay the school fee and now the school has waived the fee off,” says the team’s second defender.Shivani’s family lives in a kutcha house in Hutup not far from the football field. On her way home after the two hour practice session everyday, neighbours would pass rude remarks, Shivani recalls. “They would say, why do you walk around in half-pants like boys. They would tell my parents that Franz will sell your daughter. My father died last year but I remember he would tell me that I should give it back to these people.I didn’t bother for them,and told them that they had no business to interfere in my life“She must study and sports make her happy. She helps me to lift dung and clean utensils every morning before she goes to school,” said Shivani’s mother Jhari Devi who supports the family working as a daily wage labourer in a plastic factory at Hudup since her husband died last year. “If she has to play football, she obviously has to wear these clothes,” says Shivani’s grandfather Dukhan Pahan.

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Shivani Toppo with her mother Jhari Devi and grandfather

                 In the three weeks the girls were on tour, 40 new children have joined Yuwa’s practice session besides the 220 who are already regular. Yuwa-India’s Executive Director Franz Gastler who had first come to Jharkhand four years back to teach in villages, sounds excited about the team’s achievements, but at the same time is a bit concerned.“We applied for land on a long-term lease because the land we play on is disappearing right under our feet,as land mafia buy the land and put brick walls around it. Right now our proposal is pending with the Sports Secretary, we do not know what will happen,” says Gastler.

When asked ,”what was the biggest challenge you and the team faced to reach the tournaments in Spain?”Franz recounted,”Obtaining the documents to allow the girls to travel. After we were invited by Donosti Cup with the support of TZBZ a group of student entrepreneurs in the Basque country of Spain, the main challenge, funny enough, was obtaining birth certificates. Most of the girls did not have official birth certificates (as they were born at home)”.Yuwa doesn’t have the staff to get these for eighteen girls, so the girls and their parents took on the task . At first, mothers and fathers accompanied the girls to the local Panchayat office. But as the weeks dragged into months, the parents could not leave their fields and day labour jobs to follow up time and again. The girls reported to us that Dinesh Sahu, the panchayat sewak, had slapped several of them in the face when they arrived to follow up on the work. He made many of them sweep his office floor, and demanded bribes from each and every one of them. He told them that if they went to Spain, I would sell them into slavery.
“How did the parents of the girls respond to the girls participating in the tournament?”was the next question to which Franz replied”It was also a challenge getting support from the parents. While all of the parents wanted their daughters to get this opportunity, most could not fathom what a massive opportunity this really was. Most had never been outside Jharkhand, and going abroad was hard to imagine.”He added”We run classes and practices in three villages, and girls come from 10 villages to attend the program. My staff and I spent days tracking down parents in far-flung villages to sign documents — although they had been told to meet us and sign documents at a certain time and date, they would sometimes leave for weddings etc. far away, and with no means to contact them.”It was not an easy task as Franz narrates”the girls were often left to fend for themselves, against all the entrenched forces. working against them in society, family and government. Nothing that’s intended for them reaches them as it should. They have to fight for everything.But That’s one reason, I admire these girls so much. They take on the challenges in their lives with courage, devotion and team spirit. Their grit and determination to improve their lives and the lives of those around them often leaves me in awe.
Now last but not the least here’s something about the real hero of this story-Franz Gastler .He studied at Edina High School and graduated in 2000. He attended University Professors Program of Boston University, and received his bachelor of arts and master of arts in international political economy. He is certified in negotiation and mediation from the “university consortium” Program on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School. He underwent internship at the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit in Bogota, Colombia.

Frank_1537642f                    Franz-an American by birth but a true Indian at Heart
He participated in various sports. He received training in judo at the United States Olympic Training Center. He is experienced in coaching alpine skiing for 12 years, and played ice hockey as a goaltender.In 2008, he joined Krishi Gram Vikas Kendra,a Jharkhand based NGO, as an English teacher. During his time as a teacher, he lived in a “farmer’s mud hut”. He was asked by one of his students to teach her to play football. He founded Yuwa with the financial help of his high school friends, Greg Deming, Sephen Peterson, and Erik Odland, to teach football to slum girls.Surprisingly Franz, who never played or watched a football match before, started teaching the sport to girls between five to seventeen years of age.The program has been quite successful and has received endorsements from the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Nike, Coca-Cola India, and many others.

( Courtsey The Hindu and http://www.yuwa-india.org/)

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