The ball's in their court

The ball's in their court

The ball's in their court

New experiences, new ideas and the confidence to say ‘no’ when the need arises – thanks to a unique programme these young girls are finally game to live life on their own terms, discovers Elsa Mathews.

I n January 2014, Priyanka, a resident of Badarpur on the outskirts of Delhi, travelled by train for the very first time. No, it was not to visit relatives with her family but to play a game of beach netball on Kerala’s Shankumugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram district with her team. “While I really had fun during my maiden train journey, seeing the sea was magical,” recalls the 18-year-old.

Priyanka had this opportunity to set foot out of her home and neighbourhood thanks to Naz Foundation, a New Delhi NGO working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health.

In fact, she is among the 3,000 girls who are part of Naz’s Goal programme that seeks to empower girls through sport. “Despite our best efforts to control HIV we realised that its incidence was high among women.

This was because women and girls are not able to assert themselves in their private sphere, say ‘No’ to early marriages or unprotected sex. They were not able to raise their voice to continue their education. So we decided to use sport as a means of empowerment. It’s common to see boys playing in fields  in India but not girls. Our motive was to change this,” says Kalyani Subramanyam of the Naz Foundation.

Naz India, in partnership with the Australian Sports Outreach Program, has been implementing the Goal Programme since 2006. Supported by Standard
Chartered Bank, it runs in seven locations in Delhi and 20 locations across India.

Why zero in on netball? “This game has minimum body contact and is played exclusively by women all over the world.

Also it is less aggressive than basketball. When parents come to know that there are no boys involved they are more willing to send their daughters,” explains Vivek Gaur, Sports Development Manager,
Australian Sports Outreach Programme.

The programme operates through municipal schools and each centre holds one game of netball and one session on life skills.

Priyanka was introduced to netball in school in 2009. Today, five years on, as a community sports coach she encourages girls in her community to play. “When I started out, although I was a very talkative girl I really did not know how to express myself.

Now I know what to say and where; how to put across my thoughts when I am angry, how to persuade and how to egg on other girls,” she elaborates. Priyanka is also a first year student of political science at Delhi University’s PGDAV College where she obtained admission through the sports quota.

Her participation in netball has even helped her to become a more responsible member at home, “My father now involves me in handling money.

He thinks I will be more careful with it.” Yet, most importantly, this game has helped her to freely talk about her body. “Today, I speak openly about menstruation. It is natural and I don’t think I need to feel shy talking about it to my family anymore,” she reveals.

The Goal Programme focuses on four key life skills: promotion of self-confidence, communication skills, health and hygiene, and financial literacy. Once the girls
complete Goal, they are invited to become Goal peer leaders and community sports coaches, who are trained to deliver the programme themselves.

Since its inception the Goal programme has reached out to 9,665 girls.
“The Goal programme has informed me about HIV/AIDS. Also we have been told about our rights as girls and women,” says Pooja Singh, 17, of Jaitpur on the outskirts of southeast Delhi.

The programme has also allowed her to pick up organisational and computer skills, “I have learnt to organise training sessions and also use the software for marking the attendance of participants.”