Sports have the potential to transform people not just physically but psychologically and socially too. This journey of a shy girl from a lower middle class family in Mumbai who became a confident netball coach proves it.
Born in a lower middle class family of Mumbai, Sheetal Shetty struggled throughout her life. Apart from the gender bias, she had to also battle issues related to self-confidence and poverty. Her father was an alcoholic and passed away when she was barely eight years old. Her mother managed the household by running a grocery store and also doing some odd jobs. The rising loans finally compelled her mother to close the store and start working in a mill.
“My father passed away when I was eight and there was a huge loan that had to be repaid. My mother continued with her job, so my brother and I used to stay at home or at the neighbour’s home. The slum area we used to stay in earlier was quite unsafe and there were a few instances of violence as well. Though my mother used to worry about leaving us two alone at home, she had no other option,” says Sheetal.
Sheetal studied in a government-run public school. She excelled in academics but lacked confidence and seldom spoke up.
She rarely played any sports but desperately wanted to become the ‘monitor’ of her class. Her shyness prevented her from fulfilling this dream.
“I always wanted to be a monitor in school, so that I could feel powerful and yell at other kids. However, I was a nervous wreck and I did not have the courage to stand up when the school teacher called for volunteers for monitoring.”
Sheetal was never fond of sports and competition in any form. When she joined the Goal program by Naz Foundation, she used to exit the sessions midway. After a few repeated instances of absence from the netball practice, she was confronted by one of the coaches who urged Sheetal to continue with the netball sessions for her own benefit. She started attending the Goal program regularly and realized that she was able to battle her demons; she gradually gained confidence. However, Sheetal was learning more skills than just netball. Through this program, she was trained in four life skills – self-confidence, communication, financial literacy, and health and hygiene. With her rising confidence, she was soon able to voice her opinion and face a larger audience.
“Before I enrolled myself in the Goal program, my life revolved around school, home and television. I rarely spoke and was extremely quiet,” she says.
Her longing to become a ‘leader/monitor’ soon became a reality. Sheetal was chosen to be a peer leader and teach the skills that she had learned through the programme to others. She soon learnt the ropes and started empowering adolescent girls from her community. She started teaching young girls about health, hygiene and other issues that adolescents often find bothersome.
Thanks to her bold training, the girls she has trained have learned to say ‘No’ to peer pressure, be it early marriage, sex or even drugs and smoking.
Sheetal says her mother, who presently works as a security guard, is her role model. Unlike in a conventional Indian family, Sheetal’s mother went out to work while her father was home cooking and taking care of the kids. Once her father passed away, the entire responsibility of managing the household chores fell on Sheetal. Though the kids lacked the attention of a mother, she clearly set a high benchmark in their minds. Sheetal strongly feels that it is only because of her mother that she chose to break out of her shell and tap all the excellent opportunities available to her.
“My mother has been a super strong pillar of support. She has never shed a tear in front of me and my brother – so much so that she even controlled her tears when my father passed away. I feel immense pride when I speak to her about my achievements in school and college.”
While discrimination towards girls and women in India continues to obstruct growth, Sheetal strongly feels that women need to help themselves. She feels that in order to be empowered, women themselves have to take the first step.
Sheetal is presently pursuing her first year of B.Com from the Maharishi Dayanand College and she aspires to become a Company Secretary (CS) or Chartered Accountant (CA) someday. She also has a passion for fashion designing.
“My journey is my inspiration. I don’t need to compete with anyone else as I have my own demons to battle. I get to learn from my own issues and this inspires me to go further and achieve more and do more,” she concludes.