• More Than a Football Pitch

    December 20th 2018. CAC Global Citizen Jesse DiLuzio blogs from Nagpur, India about our On-Field week with longtime partner and inaugural FIFA Diversity Award winner Slum Soccer. 

    Upon leaving the airport in Nagpur, India you encounter what I, based on my limited experience in India, call “classic India”. Unfinished roads overpopulated with honking vehicles, massive cows snacking on mounds of trash, and a musty air that fills your nose with an undesirable stench. While this “classic India” of mine is certainly not a fair representation, after a week in the overcrowded chaos of New Delhi, these are the things you become accustomed to. Therefore, I was quite relieved when we drove past the industrial madness of Nagpur into the rural are of Maharashtra. Maharashtra is a small town that, upon first glance, lacks any distinctive features. There is one long, bumpy road that runs through the village flanked by a combination of small food stalls, large cows, underdeveloped homes, and small tents which sit on a ground of dust and rocks. So, you can only imagine our surprise when we first encountered the turf field that sits in the middle of this underdeveloped region. This field, surrounded on all sides by a large chain linked fence, belonged to Slum Soccer, the partner that Coaches Across Continents was set to work with that week. While I didn’t know this at the moment, this 30 x 60 piece of turf is way more than just a football pitch. 

    Slum Soccer was started around ten years ago by a university professor named Vijay Barse, who we were fortunate enough to meet. After watching kids play soccer with a broken bucket in the slums, he was inspired to set up a tournament for them so they could enjoy competition in a more formal setting. As time went on, this tournament turned into weekend sessions for the local community. Today, Slum Soccer provides educational/healthcare workshops, societal developmental programs, coaching camps, and the pure joy of a place to play football to nearly 70,000 men, women, and children across 63 districts in India. This meteoric rise from a fun football tournament for a few to an empowering resource for thousands can best be summarized in the stories of the people who work for Slum Soccer. 

    One such person is a young man named Homkant from Northern India. As a child, he grew up during the heat of the ongoing tensions between Hindu and Muslim groups in India and Pakistam. Amidst the tensions and dangers of the violence that plagued the region, Homkant was pressured to join the Hindu side. Caught between attacks on Islamic holy sites and the defense of his own sacred temples, he called this period of his life the “darkest chapter”. In the face of problems in his own home and with the local police, he left everything behind to start a new life in Nagpur. However, this “new life” was far from lucrative. He spent one year living on the streets before picking up a job at a local tea stall. This is when Slum Soccer stepped in. Without passing any judgment, the individuals in Slum Soccer found Homkant and provided with a home, three meals a day, and an opportunity to learn and build within the beautiful game. The pinnacle of this experience was being selected to represent India in the Homeless World Cup. Following these life changing moments, he has now dedicated himself full time to the organization. He is constantly running trainings and educational programs, recruits players for the Homeless World Cup and is looked up to like a big brother by the others in Slum Soccer who have also been helped off the streets. 

    Across Slum Soccer, you can find many stories similar to that of Homkant. Stories of struggle, strife, and a rebirth supported by the strong arms of Slum Soccer. However, the members of the organization are far from content. The minute we arrived they were proposing new challenges in order to take sport for development to a new level. Early on we decided that over the course of the week, we would take a step forward and teach games that would cover very intense issues such as menstruation. In many parts of rural India, there is little to no knowledge about the process of menstruation. In extreme cases, this means that women on their period are barred from entering the household because of fears that their menstrual blood will contaminate the food, water, plants, and other items in the home. Generally isolated in a shelter without food, water, and access to proper hygienic materials, thousands of young women die per year because of these myths. Additionally, 23 million women per year are forced drop out of school because of their period. Many of the women that we worked with in our time at Slum Soccer shared stories about how the lack of educational materials regarding menstruation has resulted in terrible consequences for themselves, loved ones, and other women. United under the leadership of full time CAC Coach Ashlyn, we worked to develop a number of games that teach women about the truths of menstruation through sport. Given Slum Soccer’s wide reach, we are hopeful that this will have a positive impact on many women’s lives. 

    In my four months with CAC, I’ve found that in many cases, despite all of the hard work put in on-field, you don’t quite know if sport for development will ever fully “catch-on” and have the positive impacts that you are hoping for. However, upon the completion of the week with Slum Soccer, I felt supremely confident that our partnership would have a positive impact on many lives. This confidence was fueled by the fruitful discussions, ambitious leaders, and inspirational stories that I was fortunate to come across throughout the week. While at first, the little turf field in Maharashtra just seemed like a nice place to play, I now know that the field itself is only a smart part of Slum Soccer’s commitment to forgiveness, education, opportunity and creating a home to those like Homkant who were forced to leave everything behind. I can’t wait to see the results of CAC and Slum Soccer’s partnership in the coming years. 

  • A New Side of Sport for Sky Blue FC’s McKenzie Meehan

    December 13th 2018. CAC Global Citizen and Sky Blue FC playerMcKenzie Meehan writes about working with Naz Foundation in Delhi, India with CAC.

    Hi everyone!

    During my first week, we worked with the Naz Foundation, a great organization that seeks to empower young women through the power of play and opportunity to learn in partnership with CAC’s Education Outside the Classroom curriculum. Our primary focus was to work with the netball coaches who teach life skills to young girls at local government schools. Naz’s netball curriculum seeks to fulfill their four main goals: to Be Yourself, Be Empower, to Be Money Savvy, and to Be Healhty.

    Because Naz has been working with CAC over the past several years, the coaches were very familiar with the standard CAC games that bring about social change. Perhaps more importantly, it was clear that the coaches truly wanted to engage, teach and empower their players in a meaningful way. Therefore, our week with the coaches was focused on helping them develop the necessary skills to do this, without necessarily following a step-by-step guide in a written curriculum.

    After evaluating several coaches at local schools and understanding the challenges these coaches often face, we focused on two main areas. First, we wanted to help Naz expand the number of games in their curriculum, while showing them how each game can have several progressions and can be used to teach numerous social messages. Next, we challenged the coaches to problem solve, to use critical thinking, and to ask players important questions to initiate meaningful conversation about important issues.

    Ultimately, the goal was to focus on the development of the ‘master trainers’, trainers, and community sports coaches to enhance the impact of the program on all of the young girls. I was very impressed by all of the coaches, as they were incredibly energetic, confident and empowered young women (as well as a few men!). It was cool to see them grow more confident in their roles as the week went on.

    Apart from our on-field work with the Naz Foundation, we went to a football training session with young boys and girls run by an organization called Foot and Boot. Despite the sandy field, the kids had so much fun and it’s amazing to see how much they truly love playing. Another evening, we played pick-up soccer with some coaches from The Football Link, the organization we will be working with in Udaipur later this month.

    In terms of Delhi itself, there are over 20 million people in the city, so the traffic and noise is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Our taxi driver told us your need three things to be able to survive in Delhi: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck!

    We also squeezed in a bit of sight seeing – we walked by the India gate, the President’s House, and through the crowded, windy streets Old Delhi. Yesterday, we took a day trip to the city of Agra where we visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and the Tomb of Itimad ud Daulah; all three sites were even more beautiful than expected. The food here has also been great, although my mouth is usually on fire by the end of the meal!

    Looking forward to heading to Nagpur to work with Slum Soccer – thanks for following along!

     

     

  • Oh Yes, We Made a Plan!

    November 14th 2017. CAC Global Citizen and Harvard Alum Heather ‘Action’ Jackson blogs from Nagpur, India about our groundbreaking partnership with Slum Soccer

    I’ve been so lucky as a CAC Global Citizen in so many ways, including having the opportunity to work with longtime partner Slum Soccer here in Bokhara, Nagpur, India. As an outside observer, it struck me that the comfort, familiarity and understanding that CAC and SS have developed together over 8 years, as people and as organizations, created an environment of trust and openness that allowed for real progress to be made this week.

    A common phrase you’ll hear whenever a decision needs to be made is “We make a plan.” This applies to almost any decision that I saw made this week incl: when to leave for Shakti Girls (Girl Power) practice; where to go for delicious Southern Indian dosa and tea; who is going to drive/be a passenger on which motorcycle (all of which read below empty on fuel) and of course which direction to take and grow an organization. Often the decision can take some time; that’s what happens when you have a lot of bright people with different ideas, and/or a lot of bikes and passengers to organize.

    And many plans were made, executed and/or in progress. Highlights include:

    Serious strides in professional and organizational development for Slum Soccer using CAC’s process consultancy framework. It’s not often easy to take the “right” next steps to grow and mature as an organization; the insight and knowledge CAC leaders provided this regard was invaluable and those next steps put into place.

    Development by senior female staff of 3 brand new games for Slum Soccer’s female health & wellness initiative, focusing specifically on menstruation. It was amazing to see the girls open up, voice frustration with, and ask about the verity of, cultural traditions and listen to the SS senior staff support, educate and inform them. You know it’s working and trust exists when the day’s program is ended, and 15 girls are circled around still asking questions and getting answers.

    42 games played with 35 coach/mentor participants, including those designed to address HIV, LGBT, Child Rights and ASK for Choice (Female Empowerment.) It’s truly rewarding to see those girls too shy at the beginning of the week to say anything or even look up from the ground, raising their arms up and shouting “I am strong” or “I have a voice” by the end of the week. Yes change can happen in 5 days.

    An amazing street food tour (once we figured out who was actually on which bike) led by senior SS staff. That “We make a plan” took some time to make following an outing to the cinema featuring Thor, my first Hindi 3D movie, but was so worth it. Thank you Slum Soccer friends and family!

  • Change Is Possible

    November 30th 2016. CAC Global Citizen Alicia Calcagni considers life for the women in Wani, India during our program with Slum Soccer.

    I developed a deep appreciation for the opportunities I have living as a girl in America after our program in Wani, India. Wani is a small Muslim village. A place where women are born with limited privileges and rights. A group of young women attended our program and trusted me enough to discuss what being a female in Wani is like. A woman is not allowed out of her house past 10 o’clock at night. A woman is not allowed to have a conversation with a man by herself. A woman is not allowed to wear shorts. A woman is not allowed to choose her husband. And a woman is definitely not allowed to even think about marrying another woman. One of the 18 year old girls asked me why she was born in Wani. How do you answer this? She does not agree with these rules and regulations because they make her feel bad. Twelve of her friends told me they feel bad too. A few other brave girls even told me they wish to have been born as a boy. I am the same age as these girls. This could have been me. My nationality, skin color, and gender are out of my control. How I use the privilege that comes with this makeup is in my control. I chose to try and help other women because this life is not about me, it is about those young women who do not have the chance to use their voice.

    CAC and our partner Slum Soccer gave this small group of women a chance to speak honestly about their reality. After our three day program a girl Slum Soccer coach named Shrutika and I had a conversation with the girls who attended. They admitted to disagreeing with the system in place, but did not have the courage to challenge their parents or community. Speaking out is scary and potentially extremely dangerous. One suggestion we had for them was to share with their parents what they did and talked about at training that day. It is not much, but it is a start. Shrutika is a role model because she is a lady who successfully questions the norm daily, and always pushes for change through coaching. These girls wish for change, and CAC and Slum Soccer are organizations that provide tools to enact it.

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  • Crying is Cool

    November 18th 2016. CAC Global Citizen Alicia Calcagni wrote about gender stereotypes in Malda, India with Slum Soccer.

    When was the last time you cried? If you’re a man then your answer is definitely, “Never.” If you’re a woman then your answer is definitely, “This morning.” This is a common stereotype across our world.

    Last week I was working with a group of 18-22 year old coaches from a village in rural India. We played a game that discussed typical male and female qualities. I introduced it by asking the group to define four characteristics of a man. They shouted, “strong, angry, and happy.” After struggling to determine a fourth, in between giggles, a young man offered “crying.” You guys get the joke, right? Obviously guys do not cry. However, he stopped giggling when I asked him: “Why don’t boys cry?” “Because we are not girls, we are strong.” I should have guessed that. Then I really challenged him, “Even though you do not cry, do you still feel emotions inside of you?” He nodded slowly, uttering a serious “yes.” I am proud of him for admitting this in a world where the cultural norm is to oppress emotions.

    We continued our discussion and I suggested that boys are strong when they cry. Maybe you can imagine the crowds response. It was an uproar of laughs and “no, no, no!!!!!” It is also important to note that the boy to girl ratio was 15:8, and the men were dominating this conversation. If no one ever questions then boys will always be strong, and girls will always be weak. Will we ever be able to define crying as strong? I have trouble understating why it is normal to suppress emotions, when 1. It is impossible and 2. Everybody feels them. However, now that it is public knowledge that women AND men have feelings why not give crying a try?

  • Life Starts After Your Engineering Degree

    CAC SDL coach Turner Humphries talks about his 2nd week in Nagpur, India with Slum Soccer.

    December 10th 2015. Due to a cyclone developing in Chennai the decision was made to remain in Nagpur for a second week. A group of coaches from Chennai made the long train journey to Nagpur where their training would be held.

    After an hour and a half of hard work on the field we would all retreat to the small patch of shade outlined by benches with faded green, yellow and red paint. As the participants ate their breakfast of yellow rice and fruits, it offered me the opportunity to get to know them outside of being soccer coaches. For many of them their journey to becoming a coach was not so straightforward. The participants voiced their frustration with the pressure put on them by their parents. This pressure in some cases led them down a path that they had no interest in. It seemed like many of them shared similar stories, citing how their parents decided which school they would attend and which subjects they would study. Aaron, a participate from Chennai spoke to me about his time at university studying to earn a degree in engineering. ‘I had zero interest in engineering, but that didn’t matter,’ he proclaims, ‘in India every parent wants their child to be an engineer or a doctor. That decision was made for me basically as soon as I was born.’ While Aaron tells me his story his friends have been nodding their heads in agreement to every sentence. I go around to each of them and ask them what they studied, ‘civil engineering,’ ‘electrical engineering,’ ‘automotive engineering,’ ‘structural engineering.’ ‘I told you!’ Aaron shouts, ‘In India your life starts after your engineering degree.’ I have no doubt that their parents had only but the best intentions in mind. They most likely look at the world and see an incredibly competitive global workplace. Hoping to give their child the best chance to succeed they handpick a course of study they think will bring security. But what about the days of ‘you can be anything you want to be’? Is that just a nice phrase we tell children until they get older? Should it really be you can be anything you want to be, as long as it comes with a six figure salary, a company car and approving sentiments from the neighbors? We tell children to dream big, but if those dreams do not fall in line with what is socially acceptable or is not the ‘right’ choice, we tell them to dream again. Prithvi, another participant from Chennai was talking to me about his favorite soccer coaches, listing the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Prithvi then asked me, ‘Do you think an Indian will ever coach in the Premier League in England?’ ‘Why not?’ I responded, ‘why not you?’

    Slum Soccer, Nagpur, India