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The Goal Girls program aims to reach out and teach life skills for girls through a fun way- netball games!
By Aarti Mohan
This article was originally published at The Alternative – an online publication on social change and sustainable living.
It is 2’0 clock in the afternoon. The sun blazes down the open space of a near empty and dusty Barat ground in the village of Aali, close to the Delhi-Badarpur border. Sixteen year old Sarita cycles in through the gate, brimming with confidence, a bright smile on her face. She enjoys singing and sports; she wants to be a ‘player’ when she grows up. Sarita joins the rest of the ‘gang of girls’, all dressed demurely in salwar kurtas; cheers and screams rent the air as they chase the ball down the ground in wild abandon. Welcome to a training class on HIV, sexuality education and health.
“Even today, the most vulnerable group we see is young women in monogamous relationships. Girls are not able to negotiate successfully in relationships. Most of them wouldn’t even make eye contact when they talked, but would get into relationships due to peer pressure. We needed a way to engage them dynamically. Retention is highest when they are enjoying themselves. And that was the genesis of Goal”, says the energetic Kalyani Subramaniam, the soul behind the Goal Girls program.
So the Naz Foundation (popular as the petitioners whose filing led to the historic judgement repealing Article 377) who had been working on HIV/AIDS since 1994, joined forces with Standard Chartered Bank, who already had 2 large social responsibility programs running on gender and HIV, to start an education program using netball in 2006. The program currently runs in 3 cities in India – Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai – transforming the lives of more than 1200 underprivileged girls, on and off the court.
Twice a week, girls like Saritha get a chance to pursue their dream and play with a bubbly group from neighbouring localities, most of them stepping out of their homes and kitchens for the first time. The girls play netball, a basketball like non-contact team game played exclusively by women in over a 110 countries.
Netball serves as the space for them to come together, learn and rise above differences.
“The girls have to be above 13 to join the program,” says Jaya, the Delhi program co-ordinator, as she checks for age proofs before letting them play, “but more importantly what we look for is willingness – to do their level best and commit to the program for a year.” The program runs for 10 months and focuses on 4 modules – communication skills, health, rights, and basic financial literacy. Besides learning how to deal with changes in their bodies, getting comfortable with their sexuality and concepts like menstruation and contraception, they are also taught basic budgeting, saving and going to a bank. The entire program is like this big game – with role plays and interactive sessions, learning seeps into the teenagers sub-consciously. “Everything happens on the court. They learn about conflict resolution, and live it by tossing out caste undercurrents and playing with girls from communities like the Chamar (ragpicker). Netball serves as the space for them to come together, learn and rise above differences,” says Kalyani.
Considering the sensitive and progressive nature of some of the lessons taught, the program tries its best to be non-intrusive. The girls get to finish all their household work (most of them are domestic workers, some look after the home and young siblings), and play between 2:30 and 4:30 pm. The idea is to empower the girls, while taking into account the social structures they go back home to everyday.
Modules on sexuality also do not dwell on morality, and instead take a clinical approach. “When they raise questions like ‘do men have sex with men’ in the session, they aren’t judged. This kind of open space is lacking in their lives. It isn’t about making them misfits or introducing something foreign. In fact, some of the mothers have learnt about conception from their daughters!” laughs Kalyani, when asked about the ramification of engaging with topics that even the mainstream considers taboo.
One of Goal’s strengths has been its partnerships – both with NGOs and Standard Chartered Bank. “When we started Goal, I didn’t even know what netball was,” says Prathima Harithe, the Goal project manager at Standard Chartered. The bank has gone beyond mere funding and worked with hands, minds and hearts. The staff even gets 2 days of extra leave if they participate in the bank’s CSR programs.
That the girls sit around male bankers, equally comfortable listening to a lesson on savings and banking transactions, as they are on condom usage and safety … says something.
“Employee dedication to the program has been heart-warming. Last year, 4800 volunteers put in over 300 community hours for the Goal program alone,” says Harithe with pride. That the girls sit around male bankers, equally comfortable listening to a lesson on savings and banking transactions, as they are on condom usage and safety (bank staff are trained to be HIV champions through a company program) says something.
The other has been committed coaches, who are role models to the girls. Amrita, who has been coaching with Goal for the last four years in Delhi says, “Netball is my main game. I played it throughout school and college.” The ex-gym instructor and college coach feels a lot happier now that she is doing more than teaching a sport – she is helping these girls live a healthier, happier and safer life.
It wasn’t an easy task convincing parents who were eager to teach their girls to make softer rotis, to send them for a sports program instead. The question often asked was “Yeh khel ke alava kuch karte ho kya?” Today, the same parents come and cheer for their girls at matches. “In the first community match, the girls arrived in slippers and salwars with dupattas wrapped tightly all around. They wouldn’t even raise their hands to reach for the ball. Look at them today – in canvas shoes, dupattas neatly to one side, warming up, and jumping for the ball!” says Harithe. These adolescents have also come a long way, from discussing cooking to debating about independence and democracy, says Kalyani.
Empowerment talk aside, each one of these girls simply loves her bi-weekly sessions with Goal. And it shows. From their willingness to help each other to their enthusiasm to talk to us, it is all representative of the confidence, independence and self respect the girls have gained through the program. While 18 year old Abdi is happy to be reunited with the education that she had to give up due to financial constraints, 19 year old Jyoti is scheduled to get married next year and promises to share what she learns here with her children. She says she might even start a Goal team at her in-law’s house!
Kalyani Subramaniam National Co-ordinator, and Goal, Mumbai: firstname.lastname@example.org
Goal Chennai: Kaveri Bharath – +91 9884144693
Goal Delhi: Jaya Tiwari: +91 9910339996.
*Photo credit: The Alternative.
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