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The Trip of a Lifetime

In September this year, the Organisation for Social Change Awareness and Responsibility (OSCAR) sent their under-17 girls’ team across the world to pit their skills against teams from six schools in the UK. The #Kicklikeagirl tour generated a huge amount of interest among the British media and three of the team’s biggest fans: Common Goal members Juan Mata, Charlie Daniels and Alfie Mawson, who through Common Goal, support the OSCAR Foundation.

The Mumbai-based organisation uses football to empower underprivileged youth from the low-income communities where girls especially live incredible challenging lives. In many cases, these girls are rarely allowed to go to school and instead are made to stay at home to cook and clean — skills that are necessary for an illegal early marriage. The organisation uses football sessions held several times a week seek to engage young people, while also raising awareness on issues such as the importance of education, decision making, hygiene, awareness of child marriage. Eight of the players on the tour are from Ranchi in Jharkhand, the poorest state in India, while the other seven live in the slums of Mumbai.

On 30th September, the team set out on what would prove to be the trip of a lifetime. However, there was no shortage of obstacles before even leaving their home country. The organisation ran into opposition from local community leaders and the girls’ families who warned the girls against going. However, after many conversations by members of the organisation combined with the legacy of the boys tour in 2017 helped persuade the girls’ families to let them go. Next up was a logistics issue. As many of these girls were the first from their communities to own a passport, it required a significant effort to get the necessary travel documents ready for the girls. Meanwhile, over in the UK, Ashok and Lucinda, cofounder of OSCAR foundation and their Director of Marketing respectively, spent two weeks visiting schools to ensure the participating schools were 100% engaged and the pupils had some understanding of the OSCAR children and the challenges they face, before they meet them on the pitch. Once the paperwork had been done and the consent had been given, the girls were ready and raring to go.

After arriving in the UK, the girls from OSCAR played football matches against the girls teams from Malvern College, Bradfield College, Downe House, St Mary’s Calne, Heathfield Ascot, and the Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It was an excellent opportunity for the girls to play football against some new teams and tactics, but the tour was about much more than just football. The players also had the opportunity to get to know their opponents away from the pitch by taking part in lessons and a whole host of different activities, from a Cadet Combined Forces obstacle course and African drumming to kayaking, rock climbing and swimming. In fact, seven of the 15 girls had never seen a pool before but by the end of the 15-day tour, every member of the tour had learned to swim.

In addition to the activities organised by the schools, there were a few more treats in store for the players. They were invited as the official guests of The Countess of Wessex to Windsor Castle, and were given a guided tour of the Queens Park Rangers’ football stadium. What is more, they also got an opportunity to get an insight into another aspect of football with the Sky Academy learning how to produce and direct a TV news item. And to top if off, the girls were thrilled to receive some coaching from top football coaches from the QPR Women’s players and the Chelsea FC Foundation.

This is all in stark contrast to life back home where they rarely have an opportunity to leave the house. The positive impact of the trip on the girls, both on and off the pitch, cannot be understated. Chhaya, one of the 15 girls to make the trip from Mumbai, explained how experiencing another culture has broadened her horizons, “in the UK I have learnt that girls are allowed to speak out. Now I am more confident and I will tell my parents I can have a career. I will not marry until I am ready.”

When they boarded the plane in London, little did they know that one more surprise was awaiting eight of the players from Jharkhand. As they arrived back home, they were given a heroes welcome by over 300 people including dignitaries, politicians, media and local community leaders. This was the very same community leaders who warned the girls not to go the UK, but who now recognized the importance of what the girls got to experience. “The UK tour is changing their thinking and and they are beginning to let girls go out of the house and get an education. My parents are very proud,” said Atisha, one of the players from the tour.

However, it has been about more than empowering these 15 girls, it is about uniting thousands of children from very different cultures to share their stories and learn from each other. Many of the girls in the UK have since joined the OSCAR International Young Leader programme and will continue to work as young ambassadors with OSCAR to promote change in communities which suppress women.

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

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