Meet Andrea Thumshirn, a German woman battling abuse and adversity for the betterment of Indian hockey
In 2011, she left a plush job in Berlin to educate rural Rajasthan through hockey. Short of finances, she now needs our help!
Every now and then, there are moments when we yearn to bring about a change in other people's lives. This phase might last for a day or even for an entire lifetime, but there is always a recurrent existential thought process, which urges one to do more for others. Former German Hockey League player Andrea Thumshirn is one such person who gave up everything to help educate rural Rajasthan through sport.
Leaving her plush travel agency job in Berlin, she first came to India in 2009 as a tour operator. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, she said, “I used to travel a lot to India as many of our clients wanted to go there for vacation. I used to travel a lot to Rajasthan and saw their condition, there was no running water and electricity in some of the villages. My business partner was from Garh Himmat village, where I went for a reccee as a travel destination. Once I came back to Germany, all I could think of is how can I improve the state of the village.”
From Berlin to Garh Himmat: The willingness to give
A penthouse, car and lucrative salary didn’t matter to Andrea any more. In October 2012, she made the choice of using all her savings to set up a hockey academy in the village, with the help of other German volunteers.
She said, “We started off on a small sandy ground with 25 sticks and the same number of pairs of shoes. Parents at that point didn’t have any problem, as the kids would be wasting their time mostly. Hence, this was something productive for them.”
With the help of a local business partner, she registered her NGO as ‘Hockey Village India’. Things seemed to be going all well for her, with more kids joining the hockey bandwagon. A separate school structure was also being built for her. However, about a year into her journey, she realised her business partner was embezzling funds from the NGO for private gain.
Upon confrontation, he agreed to the misdemeanour, but was not ready to face the humiliation of being outed publicly. So he started spreading rumours about the NGO having vested interests in converting Hindus into Christians. With increasing donation pressure, Andrea was forced to shift to another village named Jatwara, around nine kilometres way from Garh Himmat.
Despite the setback, Andrea didn’t lose her students; the same batch travelled the distance everyday to play hockey and attend school. She said, “It was very difficult to set up, but I was not going to give up. I set up a primary English school there, so that the kids would come and learn as well. The kids were all up for it, but the parents were brainwashed for a while.”
The construction of a primary school acted as a catalyst for the kids to join up again. Andrea said, “I feel you can’t blame the villagers because they have seen everybody around them only do things for money. Now when they see someone coming in to help them without any money, questions will come up.”
“Andrea, go back” – Reluctance of villagers to accept change
Two kids from the academy have made it to the junior German league. One of them is 17-year-old Brajesh Singh, who belongs to a barber family. Apart from growing into a skilful hockey player, he also speaks very good English and is all set for a college degree. These are aspects that were unheard of prior to Andrea’s entry into the village. A total of eight kids have gone to play junior level hockey in Germany through the NGO till date.
In terms of the sport's growth, Andrea was all set to install Rajasthan’s third astro-turf for hockey. However, the installation was met with stern resistance from locals and the Rajasthan Hockey Association.
Apart from garnering all the required government permissions for placement, she was also sanctioned Rs 30 lakh for development. But the locals blocked the installation site overnight, chanting slogans such as “Andrea, go back.”
She said, “I was shocked, I was trying to do something genuinely good, but the people were completely against it. The problem is playing on grass or sand doesn’t make the cut, astro turf is much faster and for more kids to go play abroad they need this. If they start practising on this, they will have an upper hand.”
Andrea has already bought land in the new village, but needs money for its installation. Approximately Rs. 5 lakh will be required to lay down the astro-turf. Considering the village now has 80 students (50 boys, 30 girls), it’s of utmost importance that the infrastructural and cultural growth walk hand in hand.
Seven kids from NGO have played in junior German league, but they are not eligible to play for India
For Andrea, it was extremely difficult to get girls to play hockey, especially in the attire that is required. She said, “In the beginning it was very hard, because parents wouldn’t allow their kids to go play with skirts. Over time, they have become open minded, they send their girls to school and allow them to play hockey. They can see that there is a way out for their next generation. This would be my biggest success so far.”
Having adopted three kids in the village, the 40-year-old is living her daily life with these villagers in order to enhance their standard of living. However, due to de-recognition from the Rajasthan Hockey Association, it’s becoming very difficult for the local teams to garner exposure.
She added, “We are registered to Hockey India, but it’s becoming very difficult for us to send our kids for nationals. Since we are not affiliated to Rajasthan Hockey, we can’t send out teams to state, hence they can’t qualify for nation. But two of them have made the junior cut in Germany. So I think the state is also losing out on some good talent, because they’re not willing to accept us as a change maker.”
The kids train twice a day, early morning and evening, under the watchful eyes of Andrea and her coaching staff. She added, “Sport is beautiful, and it helps you grow as an overall human being. I think that ideology is lacking here. However, it’s getting better and better and I hope we can install the astro-turf.”
The Astroturf conundrum
For the last two years, the astro-turf has been lying in the store-room, waiting to see the light of day. India’s fall from grace in hockey is majorly attributed to its inability to embrace astro-turf early. Here we have one ready, but nobody seems interested in installing it.
Having spent all her savings in developing the life of people in Jatwara, Andrea doesn’t have enough left to install the astro-turf. She said, “I don’t do this for money, my source of income is the smiles of these kids. And I want at least two players to make it to the India team – that is my goal.”
Andrea Thumshirn: the name might not be a household name in Indian hockey, but her work to develop the sport at the grassroots level is unmatched. She has now dedicated her life to India; it’s time we do our bit.
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