Even though India hasn’t qualified for the football World Cup starting tomorrow, fans all around are in the grip of football fever. Given a chance, many Indians would take the first flight out to Russia and watch the best players in the game, battle it out for their countries.
For Shital Toppo, an 18-year-old football fanatic from the Bari Toli village in Ranchi district, the dreams of watching her heroes on the international stage will come true on July 1 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia and all the taunts that follow her when she played the game on the village ground will dissipate for a brief period.
Joining Shital is 19-year-old Soni from Chari Hujar village near Bara Toli, and four others from across the country. All six will attend the round of 16 tie on July 1.
According to The Telegraph, all this is possible thanks to the Organisation for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility (OSCAR) Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO.
Speaking to the publication, Ashok Rathod, the founder of OSCAR, said, “We are the only such Indian outfit to get this invitation in 2018 as a part of FIFA’s initiative to invite youths from “underserved” communities from across the globe to transform and inspire lives.”
Besides watching the game, both Shital and Soni will also participate in the Football For Hope event, a FIFA youth and community development initiative, where they will interact with peers from 48 countries on issues of health, education and social development.
According to its website, the OSCAR Foundation is “a non-profit organisation that, through football instils the value of education and empowers underprivileged children and youth with life skills to take responsibility of their community development.”
The foundation runs centres in Jharkhand, Mumbai, Delhi and Karnataka. In Jharkhand, the foundation opened its centre at Chari Hujir village in Ranchi district in 2014. Currently, the foundation serves 460 girls across various nearby villages.
“These girls are from low-income families and live in places where it is easy to fall prey to social evils such as early marriage and trafficking. For them, education and football spell empowerment and confidence,” Rathod told The Telegraph.
“We faced a lot of barbs when we joined the OSCAR Foundation centre in 2014 and played at our village ground, but we did not give up. I love football,” Soni, a student at Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav College in Ranchi, told The Telegraph. Meanwhile, for Shital, who is a hardcore fan of Brazil striker Neymar, the game has taught her a lot of life lessons.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)