“When we started coaching boys from the slum in Vysarpardi, an area inhabited primarily by marginalised Dalits, we had an unlikely spectator in the stands. It was a young girl called Shakti, who had an uncommon passion for football. A passion that was equally matched by her desire to excel in the classroom.

Seeing her interest and unmistakable talent for

the game, we invited her to train alongside the boys and her eyes shone as she raced after the ball and scored goal after goal, demolishing stereotypes and myths about girls and sport.

Unfortunately for Shakti, the economics of survival got in the way. In order to support her family’s meager income, she was forced to drop out of school and her beloved football training, and join a fish-packing company where she worked long hours until her fingers bled.

We decided to intervene. Along with the support of her parents, the local school and the community, we worked ceaselessly to get her back to school and to the game she loved. We stood by her in the face of challenges she faced over the years. Today, she is the shining star in her community, a strong, confident young lady, a leader and a beacon of strength for other women, with a dizzying list of achievement that belies her tender years:

  1. She is the first graduate in her family and has completed her B.Sc. She is currently pursuing an LLB through distance education.
  2. She is the first girl child in her family to cross 18 years and break away from child marriage
  3. She has been part of the Chennai district Football team and has played more than 20 district level matches and 2 state level matches
  4. She has represented the Indian team in the International Match for Slum children in Paris (France)
  5. She was selected to be Tamil Nadu woman referee in 2012 by the Tamil Nadu Football Association and has now refereed more than 90 matches

Not content with changing her own fortunes, Shakti today is leading the way in her community, uplifting others and helping raise them out of the cycle of poverty, deprivation and discrimination.

  1. Shakti has coached more than 100 children in football in Vyasarpadi
  2. She has directly mentored 11 other girl children from her community towards selection into the district and state football team.
  3. She has prevented 2 Child marriages at the nick of time
  4. She spends a great deal of time in her area with the girl children, sensitizing them on Education and against child marriage.
  5. She conducts sessions with the children on her area every week helping them to talk about their problems and deal with their issues.
  6. She has intervened on violations in the local schools and PHCs and ensured justice for the children of her community.

As Shakti herself says, “As I started playing along with the boys … I gained tremendous courage. The assertiveness I had to show on the field also started reflecting in my life. I was able to stand up to to my father who wanted me to discontinue playing, and also to society, who didn’t approve of girls playing a male sport.

As a child, I used to fear even to walk alone to the next street. Now I have travelled to France and stayed with a team of people who do not understand Tamil. Now, I take students to different places for selections. I don’t fear travelling alone.”

Master  Thangaraj
CRY-supported project partner, Slum Children Sports Talents Education Development Society (SCSTEDS)

Read CRY in Action here

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