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In our next Story from the Field, Sony from Ranchi in India tells Common Goal members Charlie Daniels, Alfie Mawson and Juan Mata about how football has inspired her and the kids she coaches to complete their education and given them hope for the future.

Stories from the Field is an ongoing series in which Young Leaders share their stories, and the challenges they have overcome, with members of the Common Goal team.

Football has changed my life. It has made me independent and given me a chance to live a life that I always wanted. My name is Sony and this is the story of what football and the OSCAR Foundation did for me.

I’m 20 years old and live in the village of Chari Hujir in Ranchi, the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand. Jharkhand is the poorest state in India and home to over three million people.

Many of the people in my village depend on farming to earn a living which means that many families have very little money and struggle to survive. As a result, parents will often send their kids away as labourers in the hope that they will able to generate some extra income for the family.

Adult boys are expected to work in fields as labourers at the time of harvesting, and girls are forced to stay at home, cook, clean utensils, and wash clothes — skills which many parents believe will help them after they get married. A lot of girls in my community are married off at the age of eleven or twelve. The girls receive no support from their families which really affects their confidence.

Even if a child or a youth is lucky to escape this predicament, they don’t have much chance at completing their education as there are no secondary schools in my region. For those who manage to complete education, they have very few career opportunities.

I am lucky to have found OSCAR Foundation because not only has the organisation given me a way to work on my own development, gain knowledge, and learn new skills, but also influence and help others in my community. OSCAR Foundation runs a unique programme that not only teaches football to children and youth but also helps them to understand the value of education. OSCAR Foundation has three main programmes: Football Programme, Education Programme, and Young Leaders Programme. Football sessions are held several times a week to engage the youth and raise awareness on issues such as the importance of education, decision making, hygiene, awareness on child marriage, etc. The Education Programme is more focused on lowering the number of children who drop out of school. Today, more than 400 children in OSCAR Jharkhand receive support in learning subjects such as Hindi, English and Maths through this programme.

But it is the Young Leaders Programme that has had the greatest impact on me. The programme is targeted at young people who want to create opportunities for themselves as leaders and change-makers and bring a positive change in their communities. Young Leaders use football as a tool to inspire children towards education and help them in building essential life skills. Becoming a Young Leader has given me a lot of confidence. I’ve learned and developed positive values and principles. I now spend my time studying, learning, and helping young girls to perform better both in school and on the football field. I think playing football and being a community leader has made my parents very proud.

Being a player and Young Leader at OSCAR Foundation has also given me the opportunity to travel to different places like Punjab, Bihar, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Russia for the FIFA Foundation Festival 2018, which was part of the 2018 World Cup; all these opportunities have increased my level of confidence tremendously.

In my village, I’m now working on implementing a project called ‘Dreams to Life’. Through this project, we want to give girls an opportunity to play football and complete their education. In my community, there are so many young girls who would love to play football and have a career, but they do not have the support of their parents. I want to enrol more girls from my community and help them to create opportunities for themselves. At present, I am coaching them in football and life skills and helping them in building their confidence levels. I believe that these girls have the potential to stand as role models for the other girls in the community going forward.

If I had not started playing football, I would probably have been married off by my parents by now. After becoming a Young Leader, playing football, and having the opportunity to attend international events such as the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 has given me a lot of hope and confidence. This is what OSCAR really does: it gives the girls like myself hope, and it gives us a voice which we never knew we had.

Football has also changed the way people look at me. Earlier, people in my community would ridicule me for playing football instead of doing household chores, now they come to me for advice! I’m proud to know that even the community elders have started valuing and respecting me. Up until now in our communities, girls had never had such a privilege.

Common Goal is uniting the football community in tackling the greatest social challenges of our time. And we can use your help. Join the team at www.common-goal.org

Stories from the Field: Education is the Key was originally published in Common Goal on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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