Rina lives in Topsia Canalside Squatter Community where 710 families live in illegal makeshift shelters beside a stinking open sewer.
Rina is 13 years old. She is a member of Tiljala SHED’s newly formed girls’ football squad. Her father is a rickshaw puller who drinks and smokes most of his earnings. Her mother supplements the family income by working as a domestic servant. She earns just Rs1600 (£20 or $35) a month. Rina and her three siblings are malnourished and often go hungry.Rina’s mother wants more for her children: she ensures they attend school as she knows that education is their best hope for the future. Rina also attends evening classes at Tiljala SHED’s community centre in Topsia. Beside the homework support and computer classes, Tiljala SHED is promoting sports for all the youngsters. We have no sports ground, no budget and no coaches – but we do have a wonderful crowd of 22 enthusiastic girls who want to play.And they made quite an impression at a recent tournament ….
Just before the World Cup final kicked off on Sunday, another tournament got underway in Kolkata: the Kolkata Gives five-a-side inaugural GirlRising Football Championship. And for those participants, vulnerable girls like Rina from across Kolkata, participation in this sport and this tournament can be life changing.
‘The organisers…were appreciative of the efforts of Tiljala SHED, the NGO that has just started practising football and still doesn’t have a coach “The girls from Tiljala SHED lost all three of their matches but they played their hearts out. They kept practising even during the break” ‘
This article was published on Monday in Kolkata’s Telegraph newspaper. But look at the article on the left. Shockingly over 40% of girls in West Bengal are married off under the age of 18. Girls routinely drop out of education at puberty and are then married off as young as 14. Babies then follow, one after the other, leading to poverty, poor health, extreme stress, and, tragically, domestic violence and abandonment. These illiterate girls have very little power to change their lives. Whilst we are working hard (and successfully) to give these married women & girls a second chance through business training and microloans, we are also working hard to keep their daughters safe and to help them remain in education and delay marriage. Our greatest supporters for the young girls are their mothers – they do not want their daughters to suffer the same fate.
So how does football come into this?
The juxtaposition of these two articles is no accident. The Kolkata Telegraph publishes hundreds of stories every year showing how sport is a redemptive force amongst impoverished and vulnerable young people, how sport transcends India’s highly stratified society. Paul Walsh’s Khelo Rugby and his formidable team, the Jungle Crows, have been transforming the lives of the rural poor for many years. Future Hope takes care of Kolkata’s street children –and at the heart of their rehabilitation lies sport. Rugby, football, hockey, athletics bring together young people rich and poor, from NGOs and private schools alike. Imagine how it feels to be part of a team trouncing the private school softies when you were born to believe you were nothing.
So it is for these girls. Or so it should be… when they have proper football boots, a coach, somewhere to train.
Tiljala SHED aims to keep all the children in the marginalised “rag picker” communities of central Kolkata in education. They do this by running after school clubs in the heart of the communities. The children get remedial help with schoolwork, they sing, they play games; they enjoy occasional excursions, computer classes and so on. And where possible, they play sport. Girls’ football is new (as you see from the article). They have started with nothing – not even a team football shirt. Tiljala SHED is a tiny NGO with a huge heart and runs on a shoestring. With your help we can give these girls the chance to run, to compete, to be part of a team and to have the strength to resist the pressure to drop out of education and to marry whilst they are still children.
They have the drive … can you help us give them the opportunity?
£8.70 or $13.60 a month covers the cost of one girl in the football team
£18 or $23 pays for the full kit for one girl
£620 or $870 pays for coaching for the whole team for a year
£550 or $725 covers all the drinks and snacks for a year for the whole team