In the early evening of June 25th, I stood in the Yuwa house in Hutup village, surrounded by bags of football boots, jerseys, and essential travel supplies like deworming pills and ibuprofen. I obsessively re-checked a list to make sure nothing had been forgotten. In less than an hour, the 19 girls selected for the Supergoats team were scheduled to arrive. We would all pile into auto rickshaws, which would chariot us to the train station 40 minutes away. From there, we’d hop the overnight train to Kolkata, where Franz would meet us with the girls’ visas (which had literally just been issued by the Embassy in Delhi). And the next day, we’d all board a plane to Spain: the culmination of a project that had been set in motion more than a year ago.
Unfortunately, all I could think about were the things that could still go wrong.
An auto rickshaw horn brought me out of my fretting. Which was strange; it was thirty minutes early. In rural India, nothing starts when it’s supposed to start. And weirder, there were two rickshaws pulling up to the house—each of them jam-packed with people. Scrappy kids, sari-clad mothers holding infants, and fathers spilled out the vehicles and into the yard. It was the families of the five Supergoat players who lived in more distant villages. Nobody had instructed them to come to the Yuwa house. They just wanted to be there for the moment of their daughters’ send-off.
This may not sound like an extraordinary parental gesture—but I can’t understate how meaningful it was. These were the same mothers and fathers who, for the past four months, had not always been supportive or helpful in the process of obtaining their daughters’ birth certificates, passports, and visas. For most of them, it was the first time they had been asked to go out of their way to do something for their daughters.
In the next fifteen minutes, the other Supergoats began to arrive with their travel bags—and their families. The sun set over the crowd of people slowly flooding into the Yuwa house yard. The girls clutched their bags and milled around the porch: yelling to each other, carrying younger siblings on their hips, grinning like mad. In the anxiety of packing and prepping for the big departure, I had not expected a scene like this.
In a moment, it all became real: the Supergoats were going to Spain. And their families were proud of them for it. After all the ridiculous hurdles and challenges thrown at us, everything was falling into place.
After the girls had refused to stop going to the abusive officials at the local government office to get their birth certificates, and the media storm that followed.
After the years of being taunted for wearing boys’ shorts and playing a useless game, a boys’ game.
After keeping their school attendance up, despite the voices around them telling them a girl’s education is worthless.
After the hundreds of kilometers Franz spent on the motorcycle, going to and from government offices to meet with officials, track down lost passports, obtain signatures.
After the hours spent poring over parents’ documents, identifying and explaining inconsistencies that could cost the girls’ their Spanish visas.
After carrying a printer on the back of a motorcycle in the middle of the night to find somewhere with electricity to print visa forms for the next morning.
After the tireless, persistent efforts of the student organization in Spain to raise an astonishing amount of money to fund a trip like this.
After everything, the Supergoats stood on the porch stairs of the Yuwa House, ready to embark on the journey that would take them to places wildly different from everything they’d ever known. These 19 girls stood, assembled, before the crowd of their friends and family—parents and siblings whose faces shown with a new and fierce pride in the last of the day’s light. The girls sang a parting song, a prayer for safe travels and blessings of good luck in their competition. They sang beautifully. I had to choke back tears.
Finally, we crammed into the waiting rickshaws and lurched down the dirt road: girls, luggage, bulging bags of football gear, the young woman (Neha) who had been leading the girls’ preparatory workshops, plus a couple of tag-a-long teenage coaches to send us off at the Ranchi railroad station.
I watched Hutup and the waving farewell party until they faded into the night, my heart in knots. I turned back around and settled into my seat. The girls next to me were already falling asleep on top one another.
The next installment will be up within a couple days… If you’d like to continue supporting Yuwa’s efforts to put girls in charge of their own futures, please visit our Crowdrise site here. Every contribution helps!