Four high school students from Bangalore recently had the opportunity to represent India at the streetfootballworld Festival 16 (held from June 28 to July 7), held at Lyon, France. The four students (Navnita K., Manoj Kumar, Arbaz Pasha, and Harshitha TR) come from vulnerable backgrounds, but were still provided with the once-in-a-lifetime chance of attending the ten-day festival, and competing in the football3 tournament. They were accompanied by Prassanna, Young leader and Pavithra KL, their delegation leader. The Street Football Festival is a sports initiative organised by EURO 2016, which aims to drive social change, hone overall development, and improve lives by encouraging participation in sports.
The four talented students were part of the After School Life Skills Programme—a programme that aims to develop crucial life skills. The four delegates' trip were also financially supported by BookASmile, the charity initiative of BookMyShow, India's biggest online movie and events ticketing brand.
They returned from France on July 13 in high spirits, and with a bag brimming with exciting memories and learning experiences. It was their first trip overseas, and all four footballers deemed their journey as life-changing. And not only did they experience the thrill of playing football in an entirely foreign atmosphere, but they also won three out of the eleven matches they played! All in all, it was an invaluable opportunity to meet new people (also from disadvantaged communities), expose themselves to new nationalities, and tap into the rich diversity of the world. After returning, Arbaz said “It is way too hard to choose just one favourite moment. It was a trip of a life time. I've made friends from all over the world, and learned so much about a different culture. The people there was so welcoming and friendly. The whole experience was awesome!” Moreover, Manoj says “I absolutely loved my experience at France. I still think about it every day. My favourite moment was playing football with some amazing players”.
The four talented youngsters visited Dream a Dream where they recounted their vivid experiences before an audience. As said by Harshitha, the most vocal among the group, “It was the first time that we travelled in a plane. We made new friends with whom we continue to keep in touch through social media”. However, they did encounter a few issues with the food, which they found very unfamiliar. Nevertheless, as said by Navnita, “meeting someone from another country changes you. You gain entirely new perspectives on the world from the conversations you have and the meals you share.”
The ten-day festival presented the youngsters with a number of opportunities to grow and learn. The Festival 16 Programme also included a youth forum, which engaged the players in concepts such as fair play, and the role of football in cultivating cultural understanding. There was also an exchange programme, which enabled the participants to absorb the culture of Lyon, and to learn the football skills used in other nations. And finally, of course, there was the street football tournament itself, which was the highlight of the festival. The games were open to the public, and were played in internationally-mixed teams—which enabled the four youngsters to really imbibe the cultures of different countries. And rather than employing formal referees, the young leaders from the youth forum played the role of mediators—thereby allowing the players to take responsibility for their own actions, and learn the values of ethics and teamwork.
In fact, the entire experience was so inspiring and thrilling that Harshitha announced that she now wants to form her own football team of young girls—so that she can help them grow in their abilities, and not let their underprivileged background prevent them from pursuing their passion. Indeed, in the way the street football tournament changed the lives of the youngsters, they too want to extend what they learnt to other aspiring footballers.