Saddened with the plight of girls in India and the attitude of the people and government towards AIDS, Anjali Gopalan decided to do something to bring a change and eventually came up with an NGO called The Naz Foundation. Its Goal program has used sports (Netball) as a medium to develop the personality of girls and create awareness about the issue. Read more to know how the Goal program is hitting the target!
Around 1.7 million people have died across the world due to AIDS. In India alone, the figure was 1,70,000 in 2009. When India saw its first case of HIV in 1986, no one thought that this would become such a major threat and an issue of deep concern in the coming years.
Lack of awareness and carelessness can be considered as major reasons behind the rising number of such infections. Thousands of people never get the HIV test done. Those who are found HIV positive are too shy to talk about it. As a result, the partners end up catching the virus and the number increases. This is when Naz Foundation comes into the picture.
Started by Anjali Gopalan in 1994, Naz Foundation is a Delhi based NGO working exclusively on HIV/AIDS and sexual health.
It was conceptualised when Gopalan returned to India in the early 90s and was frustrated with the lack of awareness, the government’s response and the society’s mindset towards AIDS.
“Ever since I was working, I never saw myself doing anything else but this. I saw young girls getting married to older guys, getting pregnant at an early age and facing several health issues. I knew I wanted to do something for women in a different way,” says Gopalan.
Many awareness campaigns were organized, conferences were held, events happened but nothing seemed to leave a real impact. Nothing seemed to change the situation much. That is when Gopalan came up with an idea to use sports as a tool to impart knowledge about this sensitive issue and help young girls.
Changing lives through sports
The Goal program, started in 2006 uses netball and life skills education to transform the lives of young underprivileged girls in India.
“We used netball as it is a team sport. It needs minimum resources, is cheap and requires the team players to interact with each other which further helps to enhance the personality of these girls,” says Kalyani Subramanyam, program director, Goal.
The Goal Program has benefited around 10,000 young girls so far. The program that has four main areas of focus aims in holistic development of these young minds.
It starts with a basic understanding of oneself. Girls are taught about their rights and how to say “no” when needed, followed by a course on health and hygiene. The girls are also taught about various environment and social issues. The financial equity part of the course is the last leg and teaches the girls about self-dependence and budgeting.
All of this is done through the needle of sports. There are no classrooms. The training is done on the court. “Because we have women coaches, girls feel comfortable with them and they actually look up to them and get confidence that they too can reach to that level some day,” says Subramanyam.
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The girls who complete the course have an option to become peer leaders and teach the current students. Currently, Goal gets around 100-150 such students every year.
The girls who are 18 years of age and above have an option to become coaches and trainers at the foundation. They deliver their services two hours every week and get a stipend in return. Currently, Goal has 37 such girls who are interning as coaches.
The biggest challenge was to convince the families of the girls. As they belong to economically weaker backgrounds, a sport is considered as a luxury and parents have a mentality that girls would compromise on their studies if they opt for sports.
Also, Goal identifies and approaches girl students through municipal schools. So, getting the schools on board, contacting the government and getting the approval are challenging.
“There has been a noticeable strides made in the personality development of the girls. Their body language has improved, they have become more confident and healthier, both physically and mentally,” says Subramanyam.
Over the four months course, the girls get a good knowledge of topics like HIV, sexuality, child birth etc. which are otherwise often ignored.
“The main objective is to develop leadership qualities among these girls,” she says. Over 500 girls from the Goal program have turned out to be professional netball players and have played various games at district and state levels.
The Goal team plans to expand the program by reaching out to 30,000 girls in the next three years. They are also planning to open a centre of excellence for holistic development of young girls.
The main objective is to use sports as a tool to educate the girls and make them more aware about diseases like HIV.
“In the future, we want to empower as many girls as possible and make sure that they are being heard and taken care of,” says Gopalan.
How you can you help?
You can volunteer with Naz Foundation and spend some time with the girls. You can deliver sessions at the foundation to help these girls improve their communication and life skills.
These girls also need your help to prepare themselves for various job interviews. Or you can just go there to have a chit chat with them and know more about their lives and share your experiences.
To know more about Naz Foundation’s Goal program and their other initiatives initiatives, visit their website.