Andrea Thumshirn was a national level hockey player in Germany. She came to India in 2009 and since then has been training rural Rajasthan kids in hockey. She is also sponsoring their education and teaching them English. In fact, she took five of her students all the way to Germany to train!
Andrea Thumshirn, a German Premier League hockey player came to India as a tour operator. But the visit changed her life when she not only visited a remote village in Rajasthan but decided to stay there and teach hockey to rural kids.
Andrea had been playing the sport ever since she was six. When she suffered an injury she had to quit playing professional hockey. So she started coaching kids in the sport in Germany. She brought the same passion and love of the game to India when she took on the task of training kids in Garh Himmat Singh village in Rajasthan.
When you go to a remote village in Rajasthan, school-going girls and boys playing hockey like champions is the last thing you will expect to see. Andrea made it possible in spite of facing several challenges.
“I came here in 2009. My business partner belonged to this village and hence he organised the entire stay. I was so hooked that when I went back to Germany I kept thinking about the village,” she recalls.
Andrea returned in 2010 with a few hockey sticks and started training kids in hockey after school. “I thought they waste most of their time anyway, so it will be good to engage them in something productive,” she says.
It has been over four years and Andrea has never looked back. She shifted to Rajasthan permanently and started living with a local family. She also officially registered her foundation as Hockey Village India. It was all going well because she had good support from a local man who treated her like his own sister. He would introduce her to the villagers and help her get along with the locals.
But when Andrea found out that her ‘brother’ was misusing the funds of the foundation, she confronted him and they subsequently parted ways. Not ready to accept this humiliation, the man started spreading rumours about Andrea and turned the villagers against her — they stopped sending their kids to her for hockey training.
“I felt betrayed. It was such a shock and I wasn’t prepared for it. Especially when we shared a brother-sister bond. But I was determined to not give up and shifted to another village called Jatwada, which was just 9 kms away from Garh Himmat Singh,” she says.
This setback was not the only challenge that Andrea faced. Getting the kids to show up on the ground, keeping them motivated and teaching them the right techniques (as many had never even seen a hockey stick before) was a big task.
“I even got the kids to see the Indian movie Chak De India! Initially, it was difficult to communicate with them. Many parents would not send their daughters to play with boys. Also, the girls would wear salwars and dupattas, which made it difficult for them to play,” she recalls.
She also started a primary English medium school to provide better education to the kids. Gradually, by word of mouth, her efforts began to pay off. Kids started playing in several tournaments and even won a few trophies.
Thanks to Andrea’s efforts, about 50 boys and 25 girls regularly show up on her hockey ground in Rajasthan today. She also started an initiative in Goa, where she engages with 30 boys and 30 girls.
“When things weren’t working out here in India my family asked me to come back. They asked me why I was chasing after kids who were not even interested. But I was not ready to give up. I knew I would succeed and I did. Today, the kids are amazing players,” she says.
The impact of her work is seen in the attitude of the kids. They are more confident and physically fit now. They have better communication skills and a positive attitude. When Andrea found out that some of the kids were so poor that they could not even afford a glass of milk, she bought a cow and now provides one glass of milk every day to all her students. She also provides uniforms, hockey sticks and shoes to them.
“One time, we went for a tournament and our team met a Manipuri team. They were talking in English as they could not understand Hindi. My kids communicated in fluent English with them. Even though they made grammatical mistakes, they were very good,” she says.
In 2014, she took five of her students to Germany. Here, the kids got to practise in professional playgrounds and meet other players. They also attended school there for two months. “This was huge exposure for them. Such a great opportunity to mingle with other players! I could see the happiness in their eyes,” she says.
Hockey Village India is now affiliated with the Panchayat Yuva Krida Aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA), a central government-sponsored scheme for the development of sports in rural areas. Five of Andrea’s girls were even selected for the state team in the Under-16 category.
Andrea now wants to expand her work and get more girl players to come on board. She wants to start her own sports academy where she can train young girls and boys.
Due to Andrea’s efforts, amazing hockey players have emerged from among these rural kids who were once directionless. Currently running her foundation with the help of a few sponsors from Germany, Andrea is looking for monetary support to expand her efforts.
She is also looking for volunteers who can train kids in hockey and even teach them English and other subjects. To know more about her work, check out this website.