Scoring goals despite odds

New Seemapuri in north-east Delhi has the most unhygienic conditions as well as juvenile crime, but football spells hope for its young residents

HOPE FLOATS: Children of New Seemapuri are all ears to the advice given by coaches

Overflowing drains are a common sight in New Seemapuri, a slum colony in north-east Delhi. Even during the day-light hours, you might need a torch to wade through its dingy lanes and by-lanes asunhygienic conditions lurk at every doorstep.

The area is unsafe as juvenile crime is not uncommon in this part of the Capital.

It is no surprise that, parents were always reluctant to send their teenage daughters out of the house here.

But ‘Slum Soccer’, setup in May, 2021 for underprivileged children in the area by an NGO from Nagpur in Maharashtra, has made a difference.

Parents are no more reluctant to send their daughters out of their homes to play football.

Salima, a domestic help and mother of three, was one of those who was initially afraid to send her 13-year-old daughter Suhana to play. But her opinion changed. These days her daughter eagerly looks forward to playing football after school.

“The day I say no, she will not eat food,” Salima said.

“I am happy that my daughter enjoys playing football. I’m working hard to send her to a good school so that she is able to live a better life than us in future.”
Some days, Salima’s nine-year-old son also accompanies her elder sister to community park to play football.

In big demand

The Slum Soccer project has attracted over 500 youngsters in the age group of 12 to 22. There is bonhomie and friendly atmosphere when youngsters gather at the community park to play. Interestingly, the girls outnumber the boys. Even parents can be seen flocking the community park to see their children play.

“There are 350 girls who are associated with Slum Soccer. The girls come for evening sessions, while the boys practice in the morning,” explainedSonam, Slum Soccer project coordinator in the area.

“Since the play-ground is roughly 40 metres rectangular, it is too small to accommodate a large number of children. We conduct practice sessions in shifts with each batch having 15 to 20 kids.”

According to Sonam, a survey conducted by an agency found that football is the best way to encourageunderprivileged children to take up sports for their development.

Even parents are invited to witness their children in action. The youngsters of the area have become addicted to playing and often go to district parks in groups when they can’t train under volunteers at the community park, said Sonam.

“The power of soccer has changed the mindset of parents. Outdoor activity is a sort of new lease of life for youngsters, particularly the girls in the slum area of New Seemapuri. It’s like a healing touch,” added Sonam.

“Initially, parents wouldn’t allow girls to play along with boys. That reluctance has gone now.”

Football activity in a small unkempt community park in thiseast Delhi slum area that has nearly 2000 families, has been quite fruitful.

Within a span of one year, three boys– Raj Koli (U-17), Ram Shankar (U-15) and Keshav (U-13), who learned their fundamentals after joining Slum Soccer have been enrolled in Delhi’s City Football Club. The trio are role models for others in the area.

Koli, a class 12th student, is passionate about playing football. He saved some money to buy a new sports kit.

“Ever since I started playing football, I don’t spend time here and there, but try to learn more each day to further improve my soccer skills,” Koli added.

A tough life

Life is hard for residents of the New Seemapuri slum area.

Small compact multi-storey buildings don’t have proper drinking water facilities. Several families use community washrooms built by DUSIB (Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board).

Majority of the families struggle to make both ends meet as they depend on daily wages.

It is obvious that any outdoor activity will be the last thing on their minds. Young girls in the area are often seen chewing tobacco and using abusive language.

“The by-lanes of Seemapuri colony are not safe for young girls. But when I saw that there was no risk in playing football (Slum Soccer), I agreed to send my teenage daughter,” Salima recalls.

A year ago, Yasmeen, 18, had no connection with sports. But support from her mother, a domestic help, and father, a tailor, saw the teenager join the football group.

She now has a clear vision forher future.

“My plan is to focus on football. I go out in the morning for physical fitness and in the evenings,I play in the community park,” said the 18-year-old who plays as a defender.

Nazia, a class 11 student, says earlier she used to stay indoor after school.Now she has a platform to play and enjoy with her friends.

“I have changed the timing of my tuition classes as I want to spend time kicking the ball with friends,” Nazia said.

Nazia followed the 2022 FIFA World Cup held in Qatar, religiously. Her favourite team was Portugal and she is a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo.

“He (Ronaldo) wasn’t able to score against Morocco as the Portuguese super star was heavily marked by rival defenders,” Nazia observed.

Shivam Kumar, a physical education teacher associated with Slum Soccer project, says efforts are also being made to make the children aware of the environment.

“It is important to teach the youngster what is good and what is bad. We also update them about the benefits of healthy lifestyle. Football rules and regulations are also important part of training,” said Shivam.

For Rani, a class six student, priority has changed since she started playing football in the community park.

“It’s no…no for junk food. I’ve been told by my games teacher to eat healthy food,” Rani said.

Several families under the government’s Economically Weaker Section (EWS) policy, eligible to get admission in good school, are also sending their sons and daughters for better education.

“We are doing our best in the hope that one day our children will do better in life,” said Yasmeen’s mother.

Hub of garbage

Clouds of dust rise every time a player kicks the ball as the muddy ground, which is hardly watered despite being under the jurisdiction of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), is not the best facility for sports.

The approach road to the community park, used for football, is encroached by traders dealing in garbage.

Big white plastic bags filled with garbage are strewn all over the main road and by-lanes leading up to the park.

To witness Slum Soccer activity, one has to wade through the heaps of garbage bags that are being sorted by women squatting in the middle of the road. “No one dares to tell these traders to clear the road as they are well connected,” said one of the parents.

A liquor store near the community park was a big distraction for the youngsters as the scene outside the store had negative influence.

“We managed to get the liquor store shifted elsewhere,” revealed Sonam.

The community park was a dumping ground for garbage. But with the support of parents and children, we had to virtually fight to kick the traders out of the park. Sonam added.

“The park is used for community functions but not for dumping garbage anymore.”

Initially, members of the Slum Soccer had to do door-to-door campaigning to convince parents to send their daughters to play soccer.

“Parents were afraid to send their daughters out to play. But we developed trust and things changed. Initially we took the responsibility of pick-and-drop. It worked out,” Soman explained.

“Then we asked the parents to drop their children to the play-ground twice a week so that they could witness what the kids do.”

The community park is just one eighth of a football field in size.

“We don’t have proper equipment for practice. It becomes difficult for them to play on the standard football field as they practice on small ground,” said Shivam.

Youngsters are aware of the limitation, but are ambitious.

The 13-year-old Rani said she wants to be a big officer in future.

“I’m studying for two hours and playing for two hours. One day, when I become a senior officer in the administration, I will ensure there is enough space to play for children in slum area,” Rani said of her future goal.

Shivam Kumar said that youngsters will certainly become good citizen through sports.

“We can’t make everyone champions but sports will certainly teach them to be more disciplined in life,” Shivam added.

Despite the hardships, Salima is happy that her teenage daughter Suhana is learning a lot when she goes outside the area to play matches at different venues.

“My daughter knows more about Delhi roads than me,” Salima said with a smile.

Navneet Singh
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