Last month, I came back to Jharkhand to continue interning with Yuwa.
If you read my description of Jharkhand from back in September, you know it isn’t the happiest place on earth. If you’re not included in the miniscule elite that controls the state’s natural resources, it’s just not an easy place to be. Most people live in poverty and are incapable of either finding or affording quality education. Those who do acquire some wealth, power, or education cling to their fortune and flaunt it in the form of extravagant luxuries and utter disregard for anyone with less prestige than themselves. Jharkhand is a mess, and I haven’t encountered anyone optimistic about improving the state’s levels of corruption or poverty anytime soon.
But I wanted to come back to Jharkhand.
When faced with the prospect of extending my project, I had the option of going practically anywhere in the world. And I realized that what I wanted most was to return to Hutup village and the true-grit girls I met through Yuwa. Cambodia and Vietnam and Nepal were all places that were stunningly beautiful, (slightly) more functional, and definitely easier for a foreigner to navigate and enjoy. But I wanted to come back to the dysfunctional wreck that is Jharkhand, India.
As Charles Dickens said, “One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind.”
Jharkhand’s dismal reality, however, makes Yuwa’s programs all the more important and exciting. With so little effective developmental work being done here—and absolutely no other programs exclusively for girls in this area—Yuwa’s impact is easy to see. The program is still small, but the effect it’s had on these girls’ lives is enormous. 13-year-old Rinki said it best when she explained the importance of her team to a visitor: “Before I joined Yuwa, people didn’t look at me or know my name. Now when I walk through the village, everyone knows my name.”
I was psyched to jump back into Yuwa action, and I unintentionally picked an especially exciting time to return. A team of Yuwa girls had been invited to compete in Spain’s largest international football tournament, the Donosti Cup, held in July 2013. The girls will be the first Indian women’s team in history to compete in Spain, which is renowned for having the highest level of football in the world.
It might seem extravagant to spend so much money on plane tickets and travel expenses to send an entire team of rural Indian girls to Spain. I know how far a handful of rupees can go in Hutup village, and the money could easily support Yuwa’s regular programs for a long period of time. So why spend so much on a week-long tournament trip when most of the girls and their families don’t even get enough to eat daily? Why invest so much for a short-term experience?
Because these girls deserve the chance to show what they’re worth. They have grown up in a place where women are expected to give without receiving, girls’ self-sacrificing contributions are overlooked, and where hard work rarely results in… results. This will be the first time in their lives that their tireless efforts will result in something so meaningful.
Yuwa’s Donosti team (recently dubbed the Supergoats) represents the most dedicated and outstanding girls in Yuwa. The 18 girls selected come from seven neighboring villages, include two sets of sisters, and represent five different religions. They spend hours each day collecting fuel for fire, fetching water balanced on their heads, cutting grass for livestock, and cooking meals for their family. Despite the heavy weight of household responsibilities, they make time for the sport they love and consistently dedicate themselves to their team. These 18 girls were chosen after a careful process that took into consideration their commitment to improving themselves through Yuwa, school and practice attendance, football skill, and—importantly—their character. Every girl was ranked by her teammates based on five values: positivity, honesty, caring, selflessness and inspiring unity. The girls on this team were chosen as much by each other as they were by their coaches.
The Supergoats practice six days a week on a dirt ground, save their own money to purchase football equipment, and take pride in their improved school attendance. The girls on Yuwa’s Donosti team are role models for thousands of girls in their region. They are proof that girls can play football. More importantly, they are proof that a girl’s place does not have to be in the house.
This is not just a scrappy team of underdogs. They are small, undernourished, unaccustomed to playing on grass, and reliant on generous donors to pay for their tournament and travel cost: but these girls are not to be underestimated. They are fierce football players, and they have already beaten some serious odds that life has stacked against them.
Participating in the Donosti Cup will allow the Yuwa girls to interact and share their stories with other young people from all over the world. It will also be the first time for them to compete against other teams that take the game as seriously as they do (I’m talking about girls who wake up at 4:00 in the morning to do their chores because they want to have practice at 5). For some of them, it will be the first time their families regard their daughters’ unconventional self-initiative as admirable and worthy of respect.
A group of people from Spain (TZBZ) are responsible for inviting Yuwa to Donosti, and they have taken the lead in fundraising for the trip. It’s still uncertain whether or not the money will be raised in time, but it’s been truly heartening to see such consistent and persistent efforts on behalf of the Yuwa girls coming from people half-way round the world who have never met them. TZBZ has been going above and beyond to gain publicity for Yuwa in Spain–they’ve already been featured on television shows and supported by professional women’s football teams.
In the meantime, the Supergoats have hit the ground running to prepare for this tournament. They know they’ll be facing some real opponents in Spain, and they’re determined to play their best when the time comes. This morning I got up at 5:00 am to run 10 kilometers with four of them: they chose the time and the distance.
Where Jharkhand leaves a heck of a lot desired, the Yuwa girls are–without a doubt–exceeding expectations always.
 This year, there will be 400 teams attending and 8000 players. It’s taking place in San Sebastian.
 Last time I went to the market, I bought 1.5 kilograms of tomatoes for 15 rupees. That’s approximately 30 cents in the US.
 Domestic goats are very common in and around the Hutup area. They routinely wander through the girls’ football practices and matches and are notorious for their early-morning bleating. Goats, however, have some seriously redeeming qualities: they are fast, wily, agile, smart (when compared to, say, sheep), and persistent to the point of being annoying. Yuwa’s Donosti team share many of these traits… hence the name Supergoats.