Amid pandemic, this Mumbai-based NGO teaches life skills through online football classes to slum children

Thirteen-year-old Anjali Gupta of the Ambedkar Nagar slums in Mumbai’s Cuff Parade eagerly looked forward to her weekly football lessons. From a timid and shy child to a confident young girl, football had brought about a transformation in her personality. Thanks to Oscar Foundation, a football for development non-profit dedicated to empowering children and youth in low-income communities in India. But the COVID-19 pandemic not only put a halt to her classes, but also made Anjali dull being holed up in her small home. Like Anjali, more than 2,000 boys and girls across Mumbai, Delhi and Yadgir in Karnataka were going through a phase of listlessness; till they started receiving football activity videos and worksheets from Oscar’s team. From making football with newspaper and practising football moves and exercises to learning lessons in Math, English and Hindi and meditation through interactive videos and worksheets, the children and youth of the slums are now engaged in various ways.

Founded by Ashok Rathod and two of his friends in 2006, OSCAR Foundation helps children and youth from low-income communities to complete their formal education through its Football and Life Skills programme. Born and raised in the Ambedkar Nagar slum, Ashok, now 30, has travelled across the world to spread the message of Oscar and raise funds.

Oscar’s football programme has been teaching the slum kids the importance of education and seeks to empower them with life skills to take responsibility of their community development. For many young girls and boys of the slums, football has brought about a life altering experience. The pandemic, however, presented many challenges for the team of Oscar.

“The concept of social distancing is non-existent in the slums of Mumbai. So when the COVID-19 cases started mounting, we first had to work at the ground level to tell the residents of Ambedkar Nagar slums to maintain cleanliness and educated them about safety guideliness,” says Ashok. With the help of some fund raising measures, Ashok and his team of volunteers distributed ration kits to the families and 500 water purifiers along with medical kits and sanitary pads. However, by April they realised the pandemic was a long battle that they had to deal with and keeping the children motivated and in high spirits were equally important.

“We did a survey to understand that of the 2,100 children and youth enrolled under our Football and Life Skills Programme, 1,600 had access to smartphones. Thus, we devised a way to engage them systematically,” says Arvind Premanand, Oscar’s communication manager.

The children were divided into Whatsapp groups of 30 according to their age groups with two staff handling each team. Every day a common task is sent to the groups. Sagar Jadhav, a trainer in Oscar Foundation, sends recorded videos on how to practice football lessons against a wall. The videos and worksheets reach the children and youth in Delhi and Karnataka as well.

Under Oscar’s football programme, about 1,200 girls have benefited and more than 150 children who are differently-abled. In 2018, an U-15 boys team from Ambedkar Nagar community went to Spain to participate in the Donosti Cup - a major international youth tournament held in the city of San Sebastian. Last year a team of U-16 girls travelled to Denmark and won the Dana Cup. Many of those who participated did not even have a passport before, and were travelling for the first time in an aircraft.

“For the girls and boys, the football ground is their classroom. In the absence of the football ground now, we want to ensure that their spirits remain high. It is a challenge. Some kids do not respond well through such remote learning methods. But we try to reach out to them through video calls. The sport is our way to empower them and impart important life skills such as self-defence and communication skills,” Ashok adds.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 12:30:51 AM |

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