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Reaching for the stars

Published : Jul 14, 2019, 1:45 am IST
Updated : Jul 14, 2019, 1:48 am IST

The girls were given social projects to lead individually in their community, in which they achieved satisfying results.

Three girls from the slums of Dharavi and Mankhurd are on their way to California to attend a sports leadership camp.
 Three girls from the slums of Dharavi and Mankhurd are on their way to California to attend a sports leadership camp.

Varsha Shrikant Prasad got her first peek at the USA through Bollywood films. Now, the 16-year-old Mankhurd resident is not only visiting California, but will also be participating in a sports leadership camp.

Varsha, along with Sonam Jaiswar from Dharavi and Alisha Bano from Mankhurd, are headed to the States to learn leadership skills, as well as techniques to take on leadership roles in their communities through sports. In addition, the girls will be talking about different class issues during the sports cultural exchange camp.

“I am very excited about the camp. I will get a chance to interact with new people in the USA, and also see what California looks like,” says Varsha, who lives in a family of eight people, including her five siblings.

Organised by former American Women’s Soccer team captain and two-time Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy’s Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA), the event intends to bring marginal girls to the forefront and teach them leadership qualities through football. The programme also intends to help girls become good leaders for their communities, and encourage them to dream bigger.

For this camp, the foundation has partnered with the Magic Bus India Foundation, which helps children from the poorest communities to break the cycle of poverty through sports and activity-based curriculum. The three girls have been a part of this programme for several years, and are of the opinion that they have become better people. They also say that this camp will help them improve their confidence.

“I feel that I am more responsible as an individual after going through the programme. I am planning to pursue a degree in arts combined with social work,” shares Varsha. Being the oldest child in the family, she had her share of difficulties to convince her parents and community to let her go for the camp. “Earlier my parents were a bit hesitant to send me to play sports, but they are now very supportive. All my family members, including my grandparents, are proudly saying that a girl from our family is going out of India,” she reveals.

Similarly, 16-year-old Sonam, who has been learning football for last seven years, could not convince her parents to take up this opportunity. “It took me some time to pursue my parents for this, but once they saw my dedication they agreed. Now they are excited about my trip. They are looking forward to hear my experiences when I come back,” smiles Sonam, who is all set to learn new things at the camp and make new friends in the USA.

The tenth grade student, who is the daughter of a painter, also confesses that she has learnt to respect everyone through sports, and has understood that girls are not different than boys. “People from my community do not like that I play football, but my parents have always supported me. I am planning to be a footballer in future,” she says.

Every year under the JFSLA, the attending kids also undergo social development programmes like smoking, child marriage, and girls’ education in their community. These three girls too were given social projects to lead individually, in which they achieved satisfying results. This is why they have been chosen to participate in the camp. “Ever since she has started learning sports, she has become more outgoing. She has developed more interest in academics and plans to choose science after the 10th grade, and then become a mechanical engineer,” shares Alisha’s mother Dilshad Rehana while her daughter nervously packs her bags.

Her mother further says that it was because of her and her husband’s trust in Alisha that they were able to fight with the entire community. “Initially we faced some issues from our community, who were against her playing sports, but we have always been supportive. I know she is excited and a bit nervous about the camp, since there will be a lot of new experiences. We are very proud of her as she is going to the US,” she shares emotionally.

Although it’s the girls who are travelling for the camp, the parents too have been busy trying to make sure that their trip is memorable. All three girls’ parents have been ensuring that they take out time from their busy schedules to get their girls’ passports, visas and other formalities.

Tags: gold medalists, magic bus india foundation