It seems that the unbelievable story of An American Yuwa Franz Gastler has been lifted straight from the popular masala pot-boiler movies being churned out in our country. The plot of his story in recent years seems implausible at the onset, yet it is true to its honest core. An American youngster, now in his early thirties, born and brought up in Edina, Minnesota, USA; he travelled thousands of miles away from his home, across different time-zones, crossing couples of oceans, seas, deserts, mountain ranges on his way to lands up in a village named Hutup, on the outskirt of Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand state.
But why did he travel such a great length to reach Jharkhand?
Well, because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged youngsters, especially the girls aged between 5 to 17 years old, who live in the rural areas and who are often being denied the opportunities that the lives have to offer to say a girl, who lives in a city. It was perhaps destiny than well planned step that brought Franz to Jharkhand, particular to Hutup village, a typical Jharkhandi village with a large proportion of Tribal Population.
Nonetheless, not many people in Jharkhand or should I say in India, have heard about Franz Gastler, the founder of Yuwa India and the kind of work that his organization is doing.
What are Franz Gastler and Yuwa doing in Hutup village?
To quote their statement, both Franz and his Yuwa team believe that if you want to make a real difference for girls, there’s no better place to start than Jharkhand—if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. Although, we politely disagree with the above statement; as the social realities is quite different. And we told him, that knowingly or unknowingly, he rightly choose Jharkhand, as it would not have been possible for him to coach young girls in many other states of India, as the society places far more restrictions on the girl-child living in rural areas, as far as playing any kind of sports is concerned and day-to-day. In contrast, in the tribal dominated society of Jharkhand, the girls have far greater freedom than their counterparts; say in non-tribal society of any other rural areas of our country. Needless to say, it could be one of the reasons behind the steady stream of national and international athletes, not only from Jharkhand, but also from other tribal regions of our country.
In a pioneering and praiseworthy effort, to again quote Franz and his Yuwa team is using “Football”, a Team Sport as a tool to serves as a powerful platform to promote health, education and improved livelihoods among the hardest to reach, most at-risk group in the community, the group that has the least opportunity but is the most important agent for change—young women.
So what has Yuwa achieved in the last few years, certainly it has taken couple of positive steps towards changing the mindset of people at the grass-root and/or village levels, more so among the young girls. As of now Yuwa trains more than 200 plus girls belonging to neighbouring villages. Thus, Football not only instil a sense of confidence among the girls, but it also broadens their horizon, so that they can open their eyes towards seeking new opportunities, educating themselves and breaking away from the commonly prevalent cycle of child-trafficking, early marriages, et al.
But we all know that effort and reach of one Franz and one organization Yuwa is limited, it is not enough. If we to change the face of rural areas in our underdeveloped state of Jharkhand, we need many more Franz and many more organizations like Yuwa, who are willing to make sacrifices for the future of young tribal girls like Pushpa Toppo.
Franz told us that even in these extremely cold early mornings, most of the young girls like Pushpa Toppo rarely miss their daily training, in fact many of them come to the football-coaching, dressed only in their shorts and t-shirts and refuse to wear woollens as they hamper their exhausting practices, such is the enthusiasm and motivation among the girls.
Needless to add that girls from Jharkhand are hardy and dedicated, they just need proper guidance, support and opportunities to come up in their lives and climb-up the socio-economic ladder.
Hopefully, efforts of Franz and his band of Yuwa girls would bear fruit in coming years.
But not everything is served on a platter to Franz and the young Girls from Yuwa
It is a harsh fact that the roads to redemption are laid with lots of potholes and many unseen hurdles for most of these girls, as many ills still plagues our society and Jharkhand state. But we could do well to learn few lessons from Yuwa and its founder,
- We need to overcome our prejudices and pre-conceived notions
Whenever these girls travel outside state to participate in various football tournaments, they are knowingly or unknowingly subjected to verbal abuses and mental harassment by some of their opponents, both on and off the field, sadly sometimes even, some people from the authorities too join in, or turn blind eye towards such incidents. Perhaps, it is time for these prejudiced people to shed their narrow-mindedness about such girls belonging to Yuwa, who play better football despite belonging to Hindi (or local Sadri)-speaking, Rural, Tribal background. Unless, we see discarding of such kind of bias attitude, it would be difficult for poor people from India to rise. And India can never really become sports power-hub that it aspires to become in coming decades.
- We need honest intentions and willingness to sacrifice
In Jharkhand, there is huge and often visible gap between the promised work and the actual work being done in different part of the state, whether these works are being carried out by the government departments or non-government organizations (NGOs ), barring few exceptions off course. No doubt, on the various human-development indexes, our state Jharkhand continues to lag behind, despite the fact that we are blessed with bountiful of natural resources. The primary reason is that many of us lack “honest intentions” and “willingness to sacrifice” to perform our duties.
- Do not hand-over free-meals, in fact educate and enable
There is old Chinese saying that goes like this, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Our government, including us, we should avoid handing over free-meals to a needy person, instead we should always try to teach few tricks to that needy person, so that he/she can earn his/her livelihood in an honest manner. In other words, we should work hard and always look for long-term solutions to provide greater opportunities to the disadvantaged sections of our society, instead of doling out freebies.
- Dream big and work hard to achieve them, anything is possible
Recently, he was awarded Amazing Indian Award, yes you read it right; it’s Amazing Indian Award for an US citizen, by a leading media house of our country. For an American, who has won many other awards in the past, this recognition is really a huge step towards acceptance and celebration of his single-minded devotion towards the cause that he holds dear to his heart, by the people of his “karambhumi” India. Only hard work and his big dreams have made this possible for Franz. But this is not a typical filmy “The End” of his story, as Franz is likely to stick around to take care of responsibility of young children who have reposed their unstinting faith in his vision for them.
Perhaps, it time for our Jharkhandi people, especially youngsters, more so those who have been lucky to get educated; it is time for them to take a leaf out of Franz’s recent social works in our state. Maybe they too can work for the welfare of underprivileged sections of our society, as we need to pull them up and make Jharkhand a better place to live.
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