The welcome change brought about by football in the lives of kids in the Vyasarpadi slums
Once upon a time, just a few years ago, in a tiny lane in the Vysarpadi Slum in Chennai, there were young boys and girls who worked tirelessly day in and day out in a packing unit, busy from dawn to dusk in the tremendously tiring activity of packing fresh fish. Their hands bore the marks of hard labour; cuts and nicks became a usual occurrence and remained just a regular occupational hazard connected with their work.
Often the little children wondered why they couldn’t switch places with the other children who wore ironed uniforms and got into school buses and headed off to school. These slums conveyed an absolute opposite image of a busy cosmopolis, here life beat differently! Today the same children from the oldest slums in North Chennai are part of youth football tournaments and are dribbling their way towards a happier future. All because of the beautiful game!
The Vysarpadi slums are located in a low-lying area of Chennai city and lack proper housing, electricity, safe water, sanitation, and drainage - an environment that is definitely not conducive for the development of any child. Health facilities are poor, in fact pregnant women and children do not receive proper immunization and nutrition and to make matters worse, many children were forced to work as domestic helps, in garment shops, steel workshops, and ice breaking units.
Exposed to the threat of abuse and exploitation from a young age, the small team of Slum Children Sports Talents Education Development Society (SCSTEDS) intervened and changed the lives of these children forever. Take Sakthi’s example, a shining example of how sport can change the life of a child forever and for the better.
As a 6 year old, Sakthi worked at a factory unit packing fish for an export unit - a work which involved sorting raw fish, cleaning and breaking ice blocks with her bare hands, when all that Sakthi dreamt about was football!
Earning barely Rs 15 per day for 6 hours of back breaking work, she would scurry off home to clean up and head to school and football. But poverty ensured that she dropped out of school to work longer to double the family’s income. That was when she joined SCSTEDS, a program that worked with children and youth using the medium of sports to bring them together and engage with them.
Sakthi quickly became popular as a star footballer. "When she was in school, Sakthi was humiliated by her teachers because she was from the fishing community," says Thangaraj from SCSTEDS. With encouragement from the organization, Sakthi's parents were convinced and re-enrolled her into the local government school.
"Once they saw Sakthi's lack of education as something that would have robbed her chances of building a better future for herself, they were all too keen to restart schooling," reminisces Thangaraj. With the same conviction, Sakthi's elder and younger brothers too were enrolled in school. Gradually, as Sakthi's talent in football became more and more apparent, all the bullying she faced at school melted away.
With regular coaching, Sakthi was included in the under-14 State level football team. In the last four years, Sakthi has played at both district- and state-level matches. Today, she is a 22-year-old who is charting out her own future, thanks to football.
If Sakthi’s story inspires you and you want to contribute towards changing the lives of such talented children, click here - http://www.cry.org/what-to-do/donation-soccer.html
Support Soccer for Child Rights - Watch the SCTEDS team in action on 24th Jan 2015, YMCA Ground, Chennai.