Malvern College has hosted a ground-breaking football tour by a team of teenage girls from deprived areas of India including the Mumbai slums. The tour, named #kicklikeagirl, is being organised by the Mumbai-based Oscar Foundation which uses football to encourage girls and boys from poor communities to complete their education and set their sights on a worthwhile career. Malvern pupils have been raising funds to provide a range of experiences for the girls during their visit, as well as taking them on in a hard-fought football match.
“Young girls from India’s low-income communities face all kinds of discrimination,” explained Ashok Rathod who set up the OSCAR Foundation in 2010. “As their parents are uneducated, they are often forced to leave school or are married off very young. OSCAR wants to empower these girls and change their parents’ mindsets. We want these girls to believe in themselves, to give them opportunities to showcase their talent and let them dream big.”
The game has proved a potent tool in 'selling' education to poor families, thanks to OSCAR's one simple rule, ‘No school, No football.’ From an initial 18 boys in 2010, the Foundation now has 4,000 children across India in education, including 1400 girls, although it took three years to convince their parents to enrol them in school, allow them to wear shorts and play football. One turning point was the highly successful OSCAR boys' tour to England in 2017 which gave the slum community the confidence to allow girls to travel.
“The boys returned very happy,” said the tour’s organiser Lucinda Sowerbutts. “They’ve become role models in their communities. They’ve upped their game, they believe in their dreams and they’re speaking excellent English, performing so well that this convinced the mothers it was OK to let girls come. These girls are the first members of their families to get a passport or go abroad. Seven had never seen a swimming pool before – but they loved kayaking in the pool with Malvern College pupils as well as trying hip-hop dancing, climbing and cycling for the first time. It’s hugely exciting for them and they’re learning so many new things, they’re like flowers opening.”
“In our community there are lots of problems,” said the team’s star striker Atisha. “When we first came outside, we were not allowed to wear shorts but it’s important for girls to play sports. I like football. It’s my passion. My friends tell me you are playing very good at school. OSCAR helps us in our education and they’re helping girls and boys take part in sports. I joined in 2015 and I scored 5 goals recently in 4 games.”
“Every morning I have to do housework and work in the home,” added her teammate Priyanka. “It is very hard for me but I like to play sports and it’s given me the confidence to play football and go out of my house. I am really excited. England is my dream country and I never thought I could visit it in my life, so few girls get that chance. I am very lucky to see how the world actually looks.”
The highly-drilled Indian side underlined their skill and pace with an entertaining 5-1 victory over their Malvern College hosts and will also be playing matches against several other well-known schools. Among the highlights of their tour will be a reception hosted by HRH The Countess of Wessex at Windsor Castle, going on the London Eye, and visiting Manchester United and Everton Football Clubs.
‘It’s uncommon in India for girls to play football,” said Ashok Rathod, “so this is all about equality. It’s very important to work with both boys and girls, as if girls don’t get equal chances we can’t develop our country. But if we change their life, their whole families’ lives change. We wanted to make people believe more in girls and give these players a different, exciting experience with this great tour, so they can go back and change their communities.”