Mumbai - On the sports ground of Don Bosco High School in Mumbai, a group of young adults diligently went through their paces, kitted out in the strips of two football clubs: Bundesliga high-fliers Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Queens Park Rangers FC, currently battling for promotion at the top end of the English second tier.
Football and more
Alongside some of their counterparts from the London outfit and community work specialists also provided by the clubs, Bayer youth team coaches Marco Walter and Peter Quast oversaw proceedings in their temporary capacity as instructors, helping the 33-strong contingent - 20 male and 13 female - on their way to becoming certified Young Coaches.
At the end of the one-year course, the freshly-minted graduates will take their acquired football and social skills, covering areas as diverse as first aid, water hygiene and workshops on the role of women in society, into the vast slum areas of India's most populous city and their own local communities.
The project is an initiative of the Football Club Social Alliance, a partnership founded by the Swiss-based SCORT Foundation in 2007. The participants, who hail from diverse parts of the country and all work either professionally or in a voluntary capacity with underprivileged children, will get together four times altogether for course modules between now and October 2014. Marco Walter, a qualified German and history teacher who coaches Leverkusen's U-11s, is an old hand in the field already, having been involved in similar programmes in Palestine and Uganda. “The first thing we do is get to know everyone and ascertain the level of knowledge as it stands. Then we take it from there,” he explained.
Hunger to learn
Theory precedes action in the four-day workshops, with insights into how to structure an age-appropriate training session, ensuring maximum participation for all in what can often be a large-scale event. Then it's out onto the pitch for some hands-on - or more pertinently - feet-on practice for the aspiring coaches. On the third and fourth days of this particular workshop, a “Football Festival” involving some 100 local children gave the course participants the opportunity to try out what they had learned, and Walter was duly impressed by the prevailing attitude. “Everyone was very focused on the whole thing and really keen to take on board any tips or instructions.”
Summing up the mission objective, Leverkusen U-13 coach Peter Quast commented, “The aim of the project is to give people the skills and confidence to say: 'I've learned things here that I can pass on to other young folk in my own locality.'” By the end of the first module, one of the students, Pujari Parvati, was clearly well along that road already. “I want to be a really, really good coach and change the lives of the girls in my community,” the 23-year-old said. “I grew up in the slum myself and know what kind of impact the involvement of girls in such sport and girl empowerment activities can have. I experienced it myself.”