Living in a shanty near Mumbai’s King’s Circle station for almost eight years of her life never deterred 16-year-old Mary Prakash Naidu from chasing her football dreams.
And this undeterred footballer took one step closer to her dream after being felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, under the Centre’s Mission 11 Million programme. This Programme is the Government’s football initiative to promote and encourage football in schools.
Despite having returned to her normal life in her tiny shanty at Bharatiya Indra Nagar, on the dingy footpath, after having attended the felicitation, Mary continues to dream bigger.
The 16-year-old dreams to play for the Indian football team. She thinks football is her chance at beating poverty and transforming the lives of her family members, struggling to make ends meet. While her father Prakash Naidu is a temporary BMC clean-up marshal, Mary’s mother Babita Naidu is a homemaker.
Growing up, Mary realised the struggles of the 67 families residing in makeshift shanties, just like hers, in her vicinity weren’t different. All of them in awaiting one shift– rehabilitation.
“I was born here. Earlier we had a concrete house. It was demolished in 2010. Since then, we have been living like this,” she told the Bangalore Mirror.
She remembers the unshed tears and the pain of rebuilding her home every time a demolition notice made its way. And her home wasn’t the only thing getting lost in the pandemonium. Her uniforms, textbooks and football medals, everything would be taken away.
Ms Veena Rajendra Donwalkar, the headmistress of Chhatrapati Shivaji Vidyalaya in Dharavi, where Mary studies, reveals how despite giving Mary three sets of uniforms free of cost for the year, the BMC took them all away in addition to her textbooks during the demolitions.
To avoid the Class 10 student from suffering academically, the school has started keeping an additional set of textbooks safe at its premises, for her to study from. Apart from playing for the school team, Mary trains her classmates in football too.
The school awarded the young footballer Rs 25,000, after her felicitation in Delhi. Also, the local leader Kachru Yadhav, alongside a Matunga-based NGO Anstrengung United (which reaches out to underprivileged children & youth through sports), also awarded her a cheque of Rs 25,000.
Mary has been undergoing training under the NGO and currently plays for the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA). The budding footballer grabbed eyeballs with her performance in a number of local and district-level tournaments.
It was the NGO that sent in her application under the Mission 11 million programme. The members were delighted when Mary’s name appeared among the 11 children from hundreds of applicants across the country, to meet the Prime Minister.
While the Class 10 student loves football, she is taking a year off to prepare for her SSC board exams. She aims to join Fr Agnel Multipurpose School and Junior College in Vashi for their hostel and sports facilities shortly.
She continues to be tutored in academics at the NGO’s office and is often seen kicking the ball at the Guru Nanak Khalsa College ground.
We wish Mary all the luck! May she continue to rise like a phoenix and never give up!
Feature Image Credit: Bangalore Mirror