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A journey from Indian slums to Germany - for football

Wednesday June 29, 2011 07:45:29 PM, Richa Sharma, IANS

Slum Soccer and other team members before the start of their match against Berlin Monday.

(Photo: IANS)

Berlin: Khushali Darbeshwar, 19, pinched herself several times as she watched the opening ceremony of the women's football World Cup in a jam-packed Olympic Stadium here. From an Indian slum to Germany - it was like a fairytale dream for her to witness the soccer extravaganza Sunday.

Khushali is part of the 11-member Indian women's team participating in a parallel tournament - Discover Football, a global initiative to help disadvantaged girls, challenge societal norms and make a mark.

"I have never ever in my dreams thought about watching the women's World Cup opening ceremony and the first match of Germany against Canada. I pinched myself several times to feel if this was a reality or not," an excited Khushali said with a wide smile.

Being held on the sidelines of FIFA Women's World Cup, Discover Football has brought together eight teams from across the world for an international women's football tournament in the centre of Berlin.

The June 27-July 3 tournament is seeing the participation of women's teams from India, France, Brazil, Israel, Togo, Cameroon and Rwanda, as also a team from Berlin. The teams have been selected by Streetfootballworld from a list of 38 applicants.

The tournament is accompanied by a diverse cultural festival.

Slum Soccer - the Indian team -- lost their first match against Berlin Monday, but there is no dearth of confidence among the players as they are looking forward to other matches and a global exposure.

"The Berlin team has practised for a month with football experts of the national team. It was a learning experience, but I am more excited after watching the World Cup opening ceremony ... it was breathtaking," said Priyanka Arun Ragit, daughter of a daily wage labourer in Nagpur, who plays as a forward.

Slum Soccer was founded by a Nagpur-based NGO that trains underprivileged children and youth from across India in football.

For most of the girls, the journey from slums to football was a challenging task, but they fought back to follow their dreams.

Shehnaz Kureshi, 19, took to football as the boys in her class challenged her that girls can never play the game.

"I was interested in football but it is said to be a masculine game. I never tried it till I was challenged by the boys. When I started, I used to play with boys as none of the girls played the game, but now things have improved," said Shehnaz, with the Indian tricolour painted on her cheeks.

This second year humanities student, who was abandoned by her father for being a girl child, had to fight both family and society to play football.

But now she is a star in her slum near Nagpur.

"People in my slum now look with respect and pride at me and even my mother is happy as I have also started earning by coaching children in football. Most of the girls in my locality now play football," Shehnaz said confidently.

Slum Soccer was launched in 2001 with a vision to equip the underprivileged to deal with and emerge from the disadvantages riding on their homelessness using the medium of football.

"It was started by my father, but we started focussing on football in 2007 and decided to use it as a tool to bring a change in society," Slum Soccer CEO Abhijeet Barse told IANS here.

Barse left his doctorate in environment studies in the US in 2007 to concentrate on Slum Soccer. Since then he has never looked back and Slum Soccer is making a mark everywhere.

"We have training centres in several parts of central India and will soon start one in Chennai. We have 12 volunteers and a fund-raising team. We are also developing a curriculum using football as medium for development and making the whole process more self-sustainable for players," he said.

In 2010, Slum Soccer participated in the Homeless World Cup in Brazil and India won the Fairplay Award.


(Richa Sharma can be contacted at







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