Indian sport for development programme Yuwa, an organisation which uses football to empower young girls in rural Jharkhand to overcome violence and child marriage and choose their own futures, has been announced as the 2019 Laureus Sport for Good Award winner.
Legendary football manager Arsène Wenger made the announcement at a press conference alongside Laureus Academy Chairman Sean Fitzpatrick, Laureus Academy Member Missy Franklin, Yuwa founders Franz and Rose Gastler and programme participants Neeta Kumari, Hema Kumari, Konika Kumari, and Radha Kumari.
The Laureus Sport for Good Award is presented to an organisation or individual who, in the opinion of the members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, has used the power of sport to improve the lives of young people. The Academy believe Yuwa has made an outstanding contribution to society using football as a tool to transform the lives of young girls.
Yuwa, which means ‘youth’ in Hindi, works in the rural region of Jharkhand in northern India, which ranks among the highest in the country for female vulnerability. Half of school-age girls in the region are not in school, 60% of girls become child brides and female literacy rates are only 45%. The young girls in the programme use football to overcome violence, child marriage, endless poverty and a lack of opportunity.
The hook is football, played by 450 girls in the programme, but Yuwa also offers education from highly qualified teachers for 95 young girls, empowering them to choose their own futures. They learn to speak English fluently, build self-confidence and self-worth and start to change perceptions of what a girl from a rural village in India is capable of achieving.
In a context where males and females seldom leave their villages, let along their state, more than 30 YUWA girls have spoken at universities, TEDx events and conferences and travelled across India and abroad. And more critically, in a context where 60% of girls are child brides, 100% of Yuwa girls have not been coerced into child marriage.
At tomorrow’s Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony, Yuwa Founders Franz and Rose and programme participants Neeta, Hema, Konika and Radha will receive the Laureus statuette for their inspirational work in the sport for development space. Neeta has five sisters and one brother, and although she watched three of her sisters married off as young teenagers, she focused on football, education and her future through her participation at Yuwa.
In 2018, nearly 300,000 young people all over the world directly benefited from more than 160 Laureus Sport for Good supported projects in 40 countries, working to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage by using sport as the tool for change. One of Laureus Sport for Good’s key focus areas is promoting equality, empowerment and safety for young women and girls. Of the 296,300 children and young people Laureus Sport for Good programmes reached worldwide in 2018, 49% were young women and girls.
Arsène Wenger said: “People talk about the beautiful game, and the Laureus-supported Yuwa programme is a wonderful example of the beautiful impact our sport can have. The work Yuwa is doing in rural communities in India reaches far beyond the football pitch. They are changing perceptions, improving lives and giving young girls the chance to create brighter futures.”
Sean Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy said: “As Laureus Academy Members, we are lucky enough to learn about innovative and inspirational programmes who are using sport to better the lives of young people in their communities. Football for these young girls in the Yuwa programme is a life-changing opportunity, and the young girls here today are proof of that. I know I speak on behalf of the entire Laureus World Sports Academy when I say that we are hugely inspired by their work. Congratulations from us all.”
Franz Gastler, Yuwa founder said: “Society teaches girls to fit in. Yuwa coaches girls to stand out. I feel privileged to have been able to be a part of their story, and I am grateful to Laureus for their continued commitment to helping us take Yuwa to the next level in capacity and sustainability. We feel honored to receive this award from the Academy’s legends of sport and we invite all of you here today to become part of the Yuwa girls’ story of change.”
Rose Thomson Gastler, Yuwa School founder said: “We are honored to win the Laureus Sport for Good Award this year. Since 2009, Yuwa has used sport to build positive and safe spaces for vulnerable girls in rural India. Yuwa’s sports programs have evolved into a full-time school for girls, which provides transformative, high quality education to 95 students. Many more young women are eager to join Yuwa, and we are hopeful that receiving the Laureus Sport for Good Award will bring us one step closer to realizing our dream of building a permanent campus for Yuwa.”
Neeta Kumari, a Yuwa project participant said: “In my community, it’s just a rule that girls should marry at 14 or 15, have children and spend the rest of their lives in the kitchen. I want to play football, stay in school and be a role model so other girls can tell their family: ‘Wow, see that girl! She has done it, why can’t I?’ Through Yuwa, I have the power to choose my own future.”