Culture

Football Prevents Child Marriages and Drug Abuse

This is the story of a football club, where the only criteria to join is compulsory attendance to classes in basic English, Math and Hindi.

How kids drop out of school to marry young

Ashok Rathore was born to a family of fishermen in Mumbai. He went to a Government school along with his friends.
Students in these school easily make it to Grade 4 without having to study. There was no real pressure to study or to pass exams. In grade 5, the kids are introduced to English which they are expected to pass, since they are not habituated to studying, most kids drop out at grade 5 in order to work on the street.

Selling fish on the street was quick money for most of Ashok’s class mates. Half the money they made, contributed to household expenses while the rest was spent on alcohol, gambling or substance abuse. The parents did not mind the extra money, and encouraged these kids to work. However, when things got out of control, the parents in an attempt to make the kids more responsible got them married off very young. This cycle of dropout, drug addiction and child marriages has the socio-economic development of Ashok’s community.

The Oscar football club is born

Against odds, Ashok stayed back in school to finish his 12th Grade. He volunteered with Door Step School and played Rugby with MagicBus for five years.
At MagicBus, Ashok realised that he could help his community by combining sports and education.

Ashok started, by inviting his friends to play football over the weekend, and his only condition was they would have to attend informal learning classes thrice a week. Ashok earns a living as a football coach at MagicBus and other NGOs. He started his football club, the Oscar Foundation, with 18 children in 2006. Ashok exclusively works with kids who have dropped out of school, encouraging them to rejoin school. He pays for the club’s expenses from his savings. Says Ashok:

“If you choose to come here, you need to study. You don’t have to be a good player but you need to be a good person.”

The club now coaches about 100 kids, including 30 girls. During the first three months, they focus completely on football to ensure that the kids develop an interest in learning and playing the game. After this time, the kids need to attend informal study lessons in English, Math and Hindi as well as go to school in order to continue playing.

The road ahead

The Oscar foundation football club has made it to Division 3 of the Mumbai Football League. However, with lots of new kids joining, he has been struggling to find open spaces to practice. Ashok is keen to find a school or park willing to let them practice regularly. He is also keen to have girls join his club. There is a lot of gender discrimination in the slums and Ashok’s dream is to make a football team with girls. Before that, he needs to convince the parents to allow them to play, since the parents dont believe that education or sport are useful talents for girls to have.

Ashok’s vision is to reach out to all the 8000 children in his community and encourage them to get an education, which in turn will help them stay away from drugs.

The Oscar Foundation and Football Club can be reached via their website