zFifteen-year-old Amandeep Kaur, from a tiny village near Ludhiana in Punjab, has never heard of David Beckham. But give her a football and she can bend it like the English football legend. As soon as she returns from school in the evening, Amandeep gets ready for her “favourite time of the day”, booting up to tiki-taka—a style of play associated with the Spaniards. She is not alone. There are many village girls like her who have picked up the ball, thanks to the One Girl, One Football project, which is part of the Sports Punjab Initiative of the state government, that recently completed a year.
In a country where most girls don’t have it as good as the boys in all matters concerning education to healthcare, geting girls from the countryside to actively take up sport is a tall task. Despite US-based philanthropist Sunny Gurpreet Singh’s keenness to invest his own money to involve girls in sports, it took more than a year to get the programme started on the ground. Singh started the RoundGlass Foundation, a global holistic wellbeing organisation, in 2014.
The Mohali-based NGO is working to improve the lives of people in Punjab, through on-ground initiatives around sports, women’s empowerment, craft revival, waste management, and more. The NGO’s goal is to empower girls in rural Punjab through sport. Vishal Chowla, advisor of the foundation, says, “We started to give football training to girls between 6 to 16 years.
Our focus is two-fold: encourage them to come out and play football and to break gender barriers in rural Punjab.”Currently, as many as 850 girls in 47 villages across Fatehgarh Sahib, Ropar, Ludhiana and Moga districts are being trained by the organisation to play football. The self-funded NGO has given each girl a football, the necessary equipment and access to a coach. Amandeep is ecstatic about the change football has brought in her life. “I feel liberated on the field. It gives me hope for a better future,” she says.
The girls are now practicing to make it to the state team and participate in the National Games. “We have gained confidence in our own abilities. I want to become a professional player, and dream of representing India internationally,” says 13-year-old Baljinder Kaur from Khamanon village in Fatehgarh Sahib. The RoundGlass Foundation has persuaded schools to let the aspiring girl footballers use their playgrounds for practice. It employs 15 permanent coaches of whom some are women.
Harmanjot Kaur is one such coach, whose story isn’t very different from the girls she trains. “I was the first girl from my village to take up sports full-time. It took me time to convince my parents about my choice. Once they saw my passion for the sport, they supported my decision. Sport nurtures the potential of girls, not just for playing the game, but in developing leadership, teamwork and discipline,” says the 27-year-old from Mustafabad in Punjab.
The foundation seems to have scored a goal. Many village girls in Punjab are inspired to play football after watching their peers kicking the ball around. “Now we don’t bother about harsh comments from nay-sayers. We are determined to see this through,” says Amandeep as she eyes the goalpost.