Great life goals

A philanthropic Mumbai-based organisation has joined with English college pupils to arrange a transformative footballing trip for girls from India’s slums

The OSCAR Foundation’s #kicklikeagirl UK Tour 2018 arrived at Bradfield College in the English county of Berkshire on 8 October for three days of football, fun and cultural integration.

Over the past 12 months pupils at Bradfield held events such as a rough-sleeping challenge, 180-mile staff run and a soul music concert to raise funds for a life-changing football tour for an under-17s team of 15 girls from Indian slums.

The OSCAR Foundation – Organisation for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility – is a not-for-profit organisation based in Mumbai which uses football to encourage underprivileged girls and boys to go to school. It has one simple rule: ‘No school, no football.’ Remarkably, of the 4,000 children in the OSCAR family, 1,400 are girls.

In slum communities, uneducated parents don’t allow their daughters to go to school. Instead they are made to cook and clean, to learn the necessary skills for marriage – usually an illegally early marriage. Youth pregnancies are common. OSCAR aims to stop this cycle by educating and empowering the girls to change their community’s mindset and hence their own lives. In short, OSCAR gives them back their future.

With the unprecedented success of the 2017 OSCAR boys’ tour to London – beautifully portrayed in the CBBC documentary My Life: Mumbai Street Strikers, broadcast in June 2018 – the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Britain seemed the ideal year to invite the #kicklikeagirl OSCAR team to the UK. The tour’s legacy is that it has given youngsters from slum communities a sense of self-esteem, especially the confidence to travel.

ON THE BALL: Taking on one of the college teams
ON THE BALL: Taking on one of the college teams

OSCAR’s founder, Ashok Rathod, set up the foundation in 2006 when he was aged just 18 to serve his own community. From an initial 18 boys in 2010, it now has 4,000 kids across India in education. But it took a further three years to convince the parents of girls they should enrol them in school, allow them to wear shorts and play football.

‘A football tour for girls is not only a major step forward for OSCAR but for India too,’ says Ashok. ‘The 2017 boy’s tour proved that exposure to UK culture made an enormously positive impact. The boys have upped their game, they believe in their dreams. We need to convince girls they too deserve a future. With the support of the UK schools we know we can do this.’

 

WINNING SMILES: Members of the OSCAR Foundation's #kicklikeagirl UK Tour 2018
WINNING SMILES: Members of the OSCAR Foundation’s #kicklikeagirl UK Tour 2018

The girls, who live in slums in Mumbai and rural parts of Jharkhand, are the first members of their families to own a passport and travel. It has been no small achievement to secure the passports, as well as UK visas and funding. The support of the British Deputy High Commission in Mumbai, Steppes Travel and six leading independent UK schools has made it all possible. An estimated 4,000 pupils in the UK are involved with the tour.

Other outdoor pursuits during the trip
Other outdoor pursuits during the trip

For tour organiser Lucinda Sowerbutts, ‘everyone’s a winner’ in the project. ‘It’s a complicated process applying for passports, most have no birth certificates, parents have no marriage certificates and names on documents often don’t match. It takes time and patience. Some of the girls have very harrowing personal stories and they live in basic houses with no running water or bathroom. There are 100 toilets for 60,000 people. They lead very tough lives. This opportunity is a lifeline. Working in the community I can see for myself the positive impact. The host schools will learn and benefit as much as the OSCAR team.’

The girls, who played football matches against top teams at Bradfield, Malvern College, Downe House, St Mary’s Calne, Heathfield Ascot and Cheltenham Ladies’ College, were hosted by HRH the Countess of Wessex at Windsor Castle. Their sightseeing outings during the trip included a spin on the London Eye and exploring forest adventure Go Ape.

For further information on the OSCAR Foundation and its work, please contact Lucinda Sowerbutts at lucinda@oscar-foundation.org

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Highlights of the OSCAR #kicklikeagirl UK Tour 2018

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