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

Sheetal (22 year) is an inspiration for many girls in her community in Dipti Signal, Nagpur. Things weren’t same, as she had a tough childhood.

Sheetal Sahu

Sheetal (22 year) is an inspiration for many girls in her community in Dipti Signal, Nagpur. Things weren’t same, as she had a tough childhood, being born to poor family and growing up as a girl in conservative and patriarchal background. She experienced hardship, discrimination, and hatred from her society (like other girls in her slum community). Her mistake being her will to overcome all the barriers and become an agent of change.She aspired to help many girls in her community, to overcome the barriers that hindered their development.

10 years back, her family (including her mother, elder brother, and younger sister) migrated from Chhattisgarh to Nagpur, due of shortage of jobs. Her father had died in a road accident, and her mother startedworking for a small loan company, collecting money from people. Sheetal joined her mother to help and routinely went from house to house,where they were insulted by the debtors. Situation depressed them and led her mother to a new job, working in a restaurant as a cleaner. Sheetal joined her to help and contribute to studies for her younger sister (while giving up her studies).They were insulted at many places,including her relatives because she works in restaurant. Her community (and many similar ones across the country) are illiterate or educationally backward, not aware how education and sports can shape the future.Society expected girls to stay home, but she wanted to break that culture and support her family financially.

It is rightly said that “If we educate a woman, we educate a family. If we educate a girl, we educate a society”. Education gives knowledge and sports gives discipline and confidence, to spread the knowledge. We were starting our community impact program in Dipti Signal community, when we met Sheetal, who was wandering around the sports field. When we announced our football coaching in this community, she said curiously “I want to play!” She shared being tired working all day and no time to play orhave fun with friends. She was the first girl, to play football in her community and announced in first few sessions that “she would bring other girls, to help them break the boundaries which the community has long imposed on them”.

Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it!

She never missed a single session and encouraged her friends to be regular, as she realized this will play a key role in her life/future. The sessions included life skills, football skills, health, and importance of education.Her football skills improved dramatically which led her to participate in Slum Soccer’s State and National Inclusion in Nagpur and Mumbai respectively. Her extraordinary performance helped Maharashtra team reached Semi-Final in the National Inclusion Cup in Mumbai in 2019.

Her excellent performance and sheer determination got her selection to represent India at the Homeless World Cup Cardiff 2019, to be held in July/August at Bute Park, Cardiff Wales.With the dream of winning the World Cup, she flew to Wales, becoming the first girl from her community to travel out of the city. She has only heard the names of those countries on television.She played against and scored against Scotland, England, Wales, etc. improving her confidence and determination. The whole experience strengthened her plans and actions to bring about a change in her community.

She chose to “Be the heroine of her life, not the victim”, to be facilitated by heads of her community and later,by Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.

She started to put her plan into action, by attending a Youth Leadership training program (3 modules, 3 days each, covering leadership to identify problems in her community, root causes to the problems, and an action plan). She immediately began working in her community with the help of her friends, and result of her action brought about several changes to girls (as well as boys). As of today,more than 100 girls are playing football and learning about leadership, importance of education and sports, menstrual health management (considered to be a taboo), gender equality by playing together and more. She has developed 3 girl’s leaders, who are now educating children in this unprecedented time of COVID19.

Sheetal’s story is extraordinary and shows exemplary leader in her community, building on her strengths to empower other girls in her community and overall development of community. Sheetal dreams of an egalitarian society where everyone irrespective age, gender, caste, and religion will get equal opportunity to participate in sports and other social activities.


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