Life, Frisbee, and Legacy: A Conversation With Coach Anjona Mahji

Anjona Mahji is Playquity‘s first coach and has been involved since 2021. Since joining Playquity, she has achieved an array of personal and professional milestones in her community, Chabua, Assam, as well as contributed to a variety of other Playquity communities throughout India. Impressed by her story, I decided to meet and interview Anjona in Dhemaji to better understand her background and journey.

Anjona teaching a frisbee session in Dhemaji, Assam

Tell us about yourself, family, education, and community. 

I am Anjona Majhi, but you already know my name. I have a small family: one younger sister, Premi, and my father is a single parent. My mother passed away in 2000. When my mom passed away, my father and our uncle lived together. We were separated. My grandmother and aunty helped us a lot with food, bath, and clothing. My family helped us a lot when we were children. It was so hard for my father because our house was not clean. Our home is located in the Balijan Tea Estate where my dad worked. In addition to working full time, he had to manage the house: cooking and washing our clothes. At the tea garden, he did all kind of work: plucking, cleaning, cutting plants and retired 6 years ago. He got a pension and managed everything for my sister’s education, clothes, and food. 

For me, when I was 8 years old, I had to do household work. When I grew up, I had to bring my sister to school and take care of her. I had to look after her, study, and do everything. Additionally, I looked after my dad and the household as well. I didn’t have enough time to think about myself because I was taking care of everything else. When I was a child, I knew I did not want to work at the tea garden. But when I studied, I was not able to focus and got demotivated because my family is not educated. My father only studied until 4th standard and there was no one to mentally support me. The other people around me were not going to school either.

I dropped out of school in 12th grade when I was studying science. I dropped out because I was only thinking about my marks and the percentage was very low and did not think I could continue my studies. After dropping out, I got into a simple nursing course and went to Bangalore. I worked in that industry for six months and came back to Assam to do an offline marketing job in 2020. 

Anjona, her sister Premi, and father in front of their home

How did you become a coach with Playquity? 

After returning back to Assam, one of my friends from Girl’s Club told me about frisbee. I was excited to see the new game and had never participated in any sport. I thought, “I can’t run, I can’t jump.” I was scared to play sports but I was excited to see what the new game was about from the outside [Context: Playquity sent Coach Mrinalini and Alino to begin Playquity Sessions in Chabua for three months]. I joined the sessions and played for one week and liked the game. It was a totally new game for me and I was surprised that the coach was very encouraging and not yelling. I attended every session for two months and asked my coach how we can continue the sessions and how to get the equipment after they leave.

My proudest frisbee moment was when I was playing in 2021. I was defending Coach Minu who is a nationally ranked coach and felt really happy because I could play and do something I had never done before. I was happy because I learned a lot and improved a lot. 

I was so excited to learn more frisbee and would offer to teach new girls in the group. I asked many questions to the coaches and asked what opportunities exist within frisbee for us. I knew I wanted to lead here and then they told me about Playquity. At that time, I was just thinking about playing rather than coaching. They told me that they need a woman leader and that I would need to coach and set an example for the other girls. I motivated myself to learn and teach the other girls and became the first coach of Playquity.

Anjona and the Playquity girls after an inter-community tournament

What has your experience been like playing frisbee?

Everyone is so nice that plays frisbee! I enjoy it and want to spread this game not just here but anywhere. Whenever I meet people who play frisbee, I think “why are they so nice?” But, maybe it is because of the frisbee rules. That is my experience. Through frisbee, I have built network, made friends, found another father figure, teachers, and people to watch out for and guide me.

Coming from a small community, it is hard to trust outsiders and men specifically. Meeting Manickam Narayanan showed me there are people who care as allies and put women in the forefront. 

Conducting an Introductory Session

How has your life been affected since working with Playquity? 

My life has changed a lot. In frisbee, there is no referee, you have to be honest and accept yourself. There is also no body contact and you can’t get angry with others. I have learned a lot of life skills like how to apologize if I make a mistake. Before learning frisbee, I did not speak much. Now, I know that if I make a mistake that I am learning and can take responsibility and move forward. I have become self confident and a leader within the community. I also learned and improved my English. In my previous job, I only gained money, with Playquity, I have learned life skills, built relationships, and knowledge. Right now I am happy.

frisbee has given me opportunities such as: traveling alone for the first time when I went to Guwahati and Chennai. I feel confident that I can travel anywhere now. I also got the opportunity to set up Playquity and coach people in Manipur. Throughout my time, I have made many mistakes but have continuously improved from them. I learned about community organizations like Jeevan Shiksha since playing frisbee.  

There is an organization called KickOff Solutions, an organization that enables underprivileged girl leaders through sports, that has been supporting my work. I have gotten an opportunity to meet them and they help us solve local problems. I went to Bangalore for a two day program with them and Odisha for a conference.

For my local problem, I identified that there are no dust bins or trash system here. With KickOff, I have been working to implement changes and teach young people about the importance of developing a trash and recycling system here. I will be continuing my whole life to improve this issue because plastics are harming our environment. I collect the plastic and tell people to use less plastic and not to throw it in the nature. Personally, I am using less plastic now than before. If I go to a market, I do not take plastic for myself and always carry a cloth bag with me. I have dust bins in my home and lead sessions in the community with the kids to teach them how to use them. In the future, I want to plant trees in the community. 

Strategizing with girls during a tournament

What challenges have you faced during your time with Playquity? 

Here I face some challenges about scheduling the grounds and fighting with boys about sharing the grounds with us to play. Boys do not want to share with us. Most of the community did not support us until recently. When girls wear shorts, the community makes negative comments sometimes because girls do not typically show their legs. The community tells us we are wasting our time and that these outfits are not for girls.  Some parents don’t allow girls to join the sessions because they have household chores. Because of this, some girls become demotivated or drop out of school but I try to encourage them to continue. 

One good thing is that when people make negative comments, I tell the girls that this is our time. The community does not want to see women in a high level and the community is telling us that we can’t do anything apart from staying home. The girls who are playing support me and we have made unity together. I have also seen changes within the girls. Before, I would have to go to their houses and ask permission to the parents for their daughters to come to sessions. Now, if we go anywhere, the girls ask themselves and feel more confident when talking to their parents. I think if we continue to lead the sessions and teach leadership, the girls will continue to improve more. 

Curious boys observing an indoor Playquity session led by Anjona

What are your future goals? What do you envision for the community? 

I see myself as an independent woman and want to be a leader. I want to do social work and help other people around me. In my community, most students drop out of school and have no idea what to do after. If I have knowledge, I can share the ideas and opportunities with other youth. Personally, I was very mentally unstable when I was studying and I want to explain that school is not just about grades. 

I want to run menstrual hygiene sessions as well. I didn’t know what a period was the first time I got one because no one discussed with me. I do not have a mom and my dad didn’t explain it to me so I got many UTIs. My period stopped for three months and my aunties did not know why. Finally, the doctors provided some pills and now I am okay. Many people don’t visit the doctors here because they don’t think it is a problem and feel shy. Many people die because of the taboo and myths around periods here. But menstruation is normal and natural. I would have extreme stomach pains, was bleeding 3 times a month, and had frequent infections where I felt uncomfortable and it was too much. We are not taught to pay attention to our bodies and that menstruation is not hygienic. I didn’t know how to use pads or sanitary pads before so I have learned to make cloth pads and know how to use them. In the future, I want to tell girls how to use pads and advise them.  

Anjona and Jyoti walking in Balijan Tea Estate in front of Anjona’s home

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Whatever I want to do in my community and the world, I have to do it first. You must start from your own self and create change from within first. 

Anjona, her family, and members of the community

What do you want your legacy to be? 

I want to be remembered by promoting humanity and kindness. I want to promote a world where we are there for each other in any matter. I don’t want a life based on money but want to do things for the sake of self development.  I want to lead women’s independence, be self sufficient, and show other women how to do the same. 

Anjona Mahji

Megan is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Banyan Impact Fellow with Pudiyador in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she will be implementing their gender equity initiative by developing technical and leadership curriculum and creating the evaluation metrics to which the program will be measured on. Megan travelled to India for the first time as an undergraduate student with Long Island University Global’s program in 2014. Ever since then, she has been enthralled with the vastness, vibrance, and diversity of the country. She chose to return to India for a second time and wrote a case study on The Presence of Female Renunciant Ideology in Underprivileged Educational Institutions in Varanasi. Since graduation, Megan has worked in a variety of experiential learning organizations focused on leadership, empowerment, and equity.

Megan's professional background has taken her around the world to work in a variety of social-impact organizations. As Program Manager with Global Leadership Adventures, she developed programming and logistics for high school students focused on broadening their worldview and breaking stereotypes. Most recently, she worked with a B-Corporation, Guild Education, focused on unlocking life-changing opportunities for America’s workforce as an Education Coach. Throughout her work and studies, Megan has always focused her attention on the intersectionality of gender, education, and empowerment. She comes to this fellowship with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and looks forward to contributing her skills to help define and create impact metrics for an early-phase social enterprise.

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