Football has the power to change lives - read our players' stories

One look at Saad was enough for coach Ahsan to know that if Saad is not guided in the right direction he would be soon indulging in anti-social activities like gambling and pick-pocketing and falling prey to tobacco addiction and substance abuse.

Mohd Saad

Mohd Saad, a class 4th student of Saint Joseph's Convent School Kamptee, Nagpur, India, does not miss physical activities, football and education in his daily routine nowadays. He aspires to be a renowned footballer like Sunil Chetri, who is his favorite football player captaining the Indian football team.  Mohd Saad’s story is a story of transformation where a youngster who hated the disciple associated with structured sports activities and did not find studies beneficial or meaningful now enjoys spending his day participating in sports and learning Mathematics and English with great interest.    

Saad has been a participant in the Edukick sessions since August 2020 which was introduced to him by Slum Soccer’s Edukick coach Ahsan Kamal.

Saad’s family consists of 8 members,  none of whom have progressed beyond middle school.  He was also falling prey to aimlessness in life.  As a 10 year old vagabond, living in an environment where neither formal education nor sports were given due priority or importance in a child’s development, Saad was badly in need of  someone who could pull him away from the quagmire , prevent him from becoming a wastrel and  direct his energies and efforts to meaningful and productive activities like education and sports. Lady Luck smiled on him when he was discovered by coach Ahsan Kamal whiling away his time skylarking. One look at Saad was enough for coach Ahsan to know that if Saad is not guided in the right direction he would be soon indulging in anti-social activities like gambling and pick-pocketing and falling prey to tobacco addiction and substance abuse. It took Ahsan all his experience, expertise and charm to convince Saad to start attending the Edukick sessions Ahsan had just begun conducting at the community centre nearby no sooner lockdown restrictions were relaxed. Ahsan made him an offer he could not resist – if by end of the five sessions Saad did not feel like continuing further, he was free to walk away with a T-Shirt, Cap and a whistle. Saad was sure that he would just attend five sessions and, on getting the goodies, quit and be back to his old ways idling away his time. How wrong he was! He had not reckoned the power of EduKick session and the persuasion skills of Ahsan Sir.

Next thing Saad knew was that he was attending the sessions and participating in its activities with gusto. What’s more! He was making new friends among participants who displayed a positive approach to life. At the end of his fifth session, as he was preparing to go home, coach Ahsan reminded him of their agreement. Suddenly, it struck Saad that over five sessions he had totally forgotten all about it and had started enjoying and cherishing every moment of his presence in the sessions. Did he walk away with the goodies or return for the sixth session? No prizes for guessing it right.

Within a month, under the tutelage of coach Ahsan, Saad was himself amazed at the progress he had made. He had picked up football skills and had become a sought after player when teams were formed. What surprised him more was that by participating in EduKick’s innovative football based games on Maths and English, he had developed a sudden interest and ease of learning these subjects; subjects that he feared earlier

Reminisces Saad, “My father once told me to concentrate on studies to get a good job and make the family proud but I just wasn’t interested in either education or in sports. I used to go to see gambling in my community and told my father that I went to play football. And here I was, willingly attending EduKick sessions which were helping me develop my football skills as well as my knowledge of English and Mathematics”.

We struck up a conversation with Saad’s father, Mohammad Tarique, about Saad’s transformation. Says he, with a delighted ring in his voice, “The schools have remained closed since March 2000. I was afraid that Saad would fall prey to bad company and stop studying. His books kept lying in one corner of the house gathering dust. And then, one fine day Saad said he was going to play football. After a week, to my surprise, he returned home from his football session, dusted his books and sat down to study. It has now become a routine. He seems very happy doing what he is doing. Sometimes he teases our family members with questions like  ‘ What is the cube of 3?’ knowing well that none of us would be able to reply since we all did not take our studies seriously and dropped out of school. It is beyond my comprehension how football can usher such a change in a child in so short a time. But I can vouch safe that EduKick sessions have brought about an amazing change in attitude and personality of my son.”

It may be mentioned that Edukick program has an innovative curriculum of football-based games aimed to educate the participants and develop their interest and understanding of subjects like Mathematics and English. The program was basically meant to be delivered to students of Standard IV and V in low income schools. However, because schools have remained closed since March 2000, Slum Soccer has tweaked the curriculum and made it suitable for delivery in community spaces to children upto middle school level. This has proven to be a good remedy for the trauma caused by uncertainties and fear of COVID19 and the consequential lockdown lethargy amongst children.

Saad is honest and candid to admit “I was going to school without knowing why. I was reading my books without learning what was in it. It had never dawned on me how important education was in building a better future. Attending the sessions has completely changed my nazariya (outlook) towards talim (education). It has been a life changing experience. “

Now every day, without fail, Saad is on the field practicing and learning.  The boy who was running away from education and sports is now deeply committed to succeed by progressing in both areas. Saad is just one of the hundreds of children in Nagpur, Delhi and Pune who have returned to play and learn after undergoing an unprecedented disruption. The Edukick program has become an effective instrument to help young children brace against the vicissitudes of pandemic, build resilience and face the merging new normal with hope and confidence.

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