Naz Foundation empowers underprivileged girls through the sport of netball
By Neil Maheshwari
The ground at Abhinav Gyan Mandir in Trombay looks dusty and forgotten most of the time. But, twice a week – between 10 am and noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays – a curious exercise takes place here: A group of pre-teen and teenage girls take part in rigorous training and a rousing match of netball, nonplussed about the makeshift pavilion, stacks of plastic chairs and folding tables, their enthusiasm and body language rivalling that of a World Championship winning team. The difference is that these girls are from some of the poorest communities in Mumbai.
For most children, playing competitive sports implies a stick, a ball and a strip of road. But for these girls, netball has become a part of their learning, thanks to the GOAL programme, an initiative by the Naz Foundation Trust, a non-profit organisation that works on sexual health and HIV/AIDS. With seven players to a team, netball is a women’s game that is played at the Commonwealth Games. Introduced in 2006, GOAL uses netball and life skills education to transform the lives of young underprivileged girls in India.
“GOAL uses sport to empower adolescent girls living in urban settings, provide knowledge, personal and economic development, all the while offering a safe place to play,” says Kalyani Subramanyam, the National Coordinator for GOAL. She is a part of the Naz Foundation, which Standard Chartered Bank has partnered with as the National Implementing Agency in this country. The programme currently runs in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.
“We have a four-point programme”, says Bhagyashree Hakim, Mumbai coordinator. “Know Yourself, Be Healthy, Be Empowered and Money Saving.” The way these tenets are taught and reinforced is the reason that makes GOAL not only unique but also effective.
Girls aged 11 to 15 years are invited to join a team, either through a school (mandatory) or from a nearby community (voluntary). One 11-year-old, when asked why she played netball, replies, “Because football is for boys, no?” prompting her classmates to giggle.
The girls are often sponsored till their second year of Junior College and are also provided with job opportunities after they finish the ten-month course. Girls who show great promise are named GOAL Champions (GC), and sent for training to Delhi and often return to teach at centres in their home town, becoming an inspiring example for younger students. This team’s coach, Nayana Pardesi, who was just another participant until last year, explains “Becoming a GC implies moving up in life.”
Akshita Kasare, who cleared her Class 10 exams and wants to go to Mahatma College to study Commerce, says, “It’s helped us to work better as a team. We fight less now.” The programme not only brings home some of life’s lessons but also gives the girls confidence and focus. They all have big dreams for their future that include college degrees in a variety of fields and the aspiration to provide well for themselves and their families.
Girls like Akshita don’t live an easy life; money is tight at home, there are too many mouths to feed and good opportunities are few. Which is why initiatives like GOAL matter; asking an introverted child for a recap of her day or making sure that no one gets ‘out’ during the game can shape a personality. And you are left astonished to see how physical activity – something many take for granted as children – coupled with true desire to broaden their horizons can achieve fantastic change.
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