Yuwa is gifting a childhood to the girls of rural Jharkhand through education and football.
In rural Jharkhand, six out of 10 girls are forced to drop out of school early and become child brides. Jharkhand has the lowest ratio of teachers for each government school in India and ranks lowest in female literacy. The state ranks among the worst in human trafficking and sanitation and throws up several challenges to the empowerment of girls and women.
This is what Yuwa is combating. The organisation is trying to make a difference through its programmes for girls, which aim to put girls’ futures back in their own hands.
Yuwa’s intensive, holistic programmes provide girls with the tools and skills they need to reach their full academic potential and develop critical and creative thinking skills to become independent and empowered.
Yuwa was founded by Franz Gastler and three of his high school friends, Stephen Peterson, Greg Deming, Erik Odland, in 2009. Franz, who is from Minnesota, was motivated by a curiosity to understand the real dynamics that drive the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’, and first came to India to work with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on corporate CSR models in Gurgaon.
After a year, Franz left CII to get a more real, on-the-ground experience and landed in Jharkhand, where he began his journey towards educating girl children. Originally, Yuwa was a scholarship foundation for hard-working students from a government school to attend a private English medium school. Franz and the three other co-founders pooled their money together for the scholarships.At the same time, some girls from the school where Franz was volunteering as an English teacher asked if he would coach a football team. Despite the fact that Franz was not a football player, he said yes. As a result, for the first time, a programme had been designed especially for girls.
In the village, girls are expected to spend all of their time in the service of their families — not going to school, not studying, and certainly not having fun or playing sports. More and more girls joined the Yuwa team. The programme started to gain momentum when an after-school English class was offered for the football girls. Through the positive peer pressure created by daily team practices, girls started going to school every day, taking an interest in their own education, and simply taking care of themselves.
“Yuwa does more than simply delay marriage until the age of 18 — we are enabling girls to break out of the cycle of poverty and make powerful decisions about their futures. Before joining, they were shy, quiet girls who mumbled responses with their eyes on the ground. After months of daily practice and affirmation in a positive social network, they became confident, bold football players who weren’t afraid to introduce themselves to strangers,” says Franz.
Rose Thomson, who joined Yuwa in 2012 while studying the use of sports to empower disadvantaged girls, co-founded the Yuwa School along with Franz in April 2015. Rose first came to India on a post-graduate fellowship studying the use of sports to help girls. Rose launched Yuwa School with 45 students and six full-time teachers. The goal of the school is to enable each student to reach their full academic potential, develop critical and creative thinking skills, and become compassionate, empowered leaders in their communities.
“Currently, we have standards 1 to 9, and we will add a standard each year up until the 12th. We want to prepare graduates to go on to top universities in India and abroad. From 5th standard onwards, classes are taught entirely in English. Standards 1-2 are bilingual (Hindi and English) and standards 3-4 are taught in 75 percent English and 25 percent Hindi,” says Franz.
Yuwa’s recruitment process is driven by the youth coaches. Currently, Yuwa has 30 young coaches who have come up through their programmes. Twenty-five of those coaches are girls between the ages of 14 and 22. These coaches lead daily practices and life-skills workshops for over 300 girls who participate in Yuwa’s football programmes. They act as positive role models and mentors, inspiring hundreds of girls to dream of a different future.
Yuwa’s staff meets with parents individually, in their homes, several times a week. These meetings usually include discussions about their daughter’s future and education and the importance of allowing her time to study and play. These meetings also cover topics such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, health and hygiene, nutrition, and human trafficking. Home visits are a powerful and effective way to connect with girls’ parents and improve Yuwa’s understanding of home situations and challenges. Larger group parent meetings are held several times a year.
Yuwa participants come from around 15 villages in the Ormanjhi block of the Ranchi district in Jharkhand.
Yuwa School teachers come from all across India, and sometimes, from different countries as well. Students follow the NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) curriculum, but teachers are strongly encouraged to use supplementary material in the classroom. Yuwa’s library has hundreds of books donated from across India and the US, including many novels and storybooks for readers of all levels. Daily lesson plans are diverse and include varied activities such as group projects, presentations, individual research, partner work, debates, competitions, and experiments.
This year, Yuwa had to close admissions because of the huge interest from girls’ parents in Yuwa School. Currently, the team is organising a crowdfunding campaign for building a school for 300, which would take the number of daily footballers to 1,600, along with a residential block for about 300 students and 30 staff members.
The team is planning to build a 20-classroom facility with a football ground on-site, computer and video lab, library, paramedic support, a canteen, and an amphitheatre. The student coaches will increase to 112, taking the reach of the programme to more than 1,600 girls every day.