“Yuwa is the only place…”
Over the past week, I’ve heard many sentences started this way. More importantly, I’ve witnessed the truth of those five words countless times. When I arrived in Jharkhand, I had no idea what to expect from the small NGO I’d be working with, Yuwa. Yuwa was founded by an American, Franz, after he asked some girls what they really wanted. The answer was simple- they wanted to play football (soccer, for all you Americans out there). So Franz set out to create a space in which girls were allowed to play as much as the boys in their villages, encouraged to be just as rough and bold in their moves, and supported by their team mates and their coaches. Over the past 4 years, Franz and the rest of the Yuwa crew has created, expanded, and solidified that space in a seemingly unlikely climate of gender inequality.
But Yuwa is so much more than just a football organization. In fact, it wasn’t even meant to be all that much about football. Yuwa is a community organization for girls that combats human trafficking (Jharkhand has the highest rate of human trafficking in India), child marriage, poor education systems, and a variety of other social issues. Football just happened to be the best weapon against these issues. The best thing about Yuwa is how unique it is:
Yuwa is the only place girls are encouraged, and expected, to think for themselves.
The model of Yuwa provides space in which girls are expected to think independently, to ask questions, and to teach each other. Whether in the classroom where they gather before their regular school hours for additional instruction, or on the football pitch, Yuwa girls are empowered to make their own decisions about their world.
Yuwa is the only place where being tough, loud, and physical are considered “cool”.
One thing I have noticed is that the Yuwa girls are not afraid to tackle each other in practice, be loud on the field, and speak their minds. This is incredible to see in an area where women are expected to be quiet and obedient- Yuwa has created a counterculture in which it is cool for girls to speak their mind.
Yuwa is the only place girls can show their bare legs without shame!
The Yuwa girls all wear shorts to practice. This may not sound revolutionary to many people, but considering the strict gender and social norms here in Jharkhand (and most of India), it is very rare to see girls in shorts after a certain age. Here, girls on every team and of every age feel safe enough to be able to rock some shorts while they tear up the football pitch. A lot of girls face harassment on their walks home and disapproving parents, but Yuwa has empowered them to hold their heads high and show their bare legs.
So far, I absolutely love working with Yuwa. The girls are incredible, the staff is dedicated, and my football and Hindi skills are (slowly) improving. I look forward to learning all of the other ways in which Yuwa is truly a one of a kind place.
You can read more about Yuwa and the match we played against an all-male team of masters’ students at Julia’s blog!