Tribal teen scores a dream goal at Copenhagen

Yuwa football cadet of Ormanjhi tells her story before a global audience

By A.S.R.P. Mukesh in Ranchi
  • Published 25.05.16
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Sunita Kumari (centre) being welcomed at Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh

Ranchi, May 24: Six years ago, she was 11, the fourth of six daughters of a marginal tribal farmer in Koilari village in Ormanjhi, Ranchi, a school dropout with no aim in life. Today, her name figures as a speaker along with Melinda Gates, Barkha Dutt and Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, among many others, at a global conclave in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sunita Kumari (17), a soccer cadet of Yuwa, a social outfit founded by US national Franz Gastler a decade ago with the aim to empower rural girls through soccer, came back home on Tuesday after a whirlwind visit to Copenhagen where she spoke at the 4th Global Conference of WomenDeliver, a New York-based organisation that works on health, rights and well-being of girls and women.

At the conclave from May 16 to 19, Sunita was one of the speakers in the session "Girl Power in Play: Levelling the Playing Field for Girls and Women" on May 17. Addressing 5,000 people for about seven minutes in English, Sunita spoke on what it meant for an ordinary tribal village girl from Jharkhand to put on sneakers, brave the sniggers and play soccer.

"It seemed the applause would go on and on," Sunita, who had earlier shot to limelight for being a part of the Yuwa team which won bronze at the U-14 Gasteiz Cup in Spain in 2013, said outside Birsa Munda Airport today. "Yes, taking up football completely changed my life. There are many like me in Ormanjhi today, who after battling several odds, have started playing football and use it as a tool to dream. That's what I told the conclave."

How was her experience?

"Amazing," said the girl. "I never thought people would listen to me with so much love. And, I also got to know the stories of girls and women from other countries. I heard a delegate from Afghanistan speak on how girls are defying fanatics to go to school and get an education. I have forgotten her name now, but I found her story very inspiring, very courageous," the girl said.

So is her own story. Sunita, who neither liked going to school nor doing housework, used to loiter around with other children when her older sisters encouraged her to join Yuwa after hearing some girls from the locality were playing football.

"I joined Yuwa sometime in 2010. I not only learnt to play football, which I love more than anything, I learnt to speak English, develop an interest in studies, travel abroad," she said. "Who could have imagined it?" said the girl.

Nowadays, Sunita not only practises football but also coaches junior Yuwa cadets in football and studies in Class IX at the Yuwa school that was started a couple of years ago at Hutup village, Ormanjhi.

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The money she gets coaching football helps her finance her studies as well as of her two younger sisters also studying at the Yuwa school.

Her biggest takeaway from the trip?

"I made many friends, learnt many new things. Heard speakers from Afghanistan, South Africa, among others, and their stories of change," Sunita said.

Yuwa programme coordinator Rose, who accompanied Sunita on the trip, said the girl prepared her own speech. "She wrote it on her own and practised it for a month," Rose said.

On why Sunita was chosen to go to Copenhagen, Rose said: "When in February WomenDeliver asked us to send a Yuwa girl as a speaker, we thought of a player who is also a coach and held a selection process based on conduct, leadership skills and confidence. Sunita was the obvious choice."