Being born into the slums of Mumbai is one of the toughest hands a child can be dealt. Poverty, crime, alcoholism and other addictions layer the foundations of all too many lives. Children are often denied an adequate education and taken out of school prematurely to work in the market place. Things are no different in Ambedkar Nagar, a slum community in Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai. Impressionable, uneducated, and with very little prospects – kids growing up exposed to this too often repeat the cycle.
Ashok Rathod, founder of the OSCAR Foundation, is determined for this to change. A product of the slum himself, Ashok knows firsthand the trails that come with residency. He recognised a growing interest in football amongst the youth of the slum, and hatched a plan. He set up The OSCAR Foundation, introducing a football team to the slum’s youth that anyone could join with one rule attached – no school attendance and they’re out.
At it’s conception in 2008, with no equipment or staff, The OSCAR Foundation had some trouble convincing the parents of the community to let their kids join OSCAR. They opted instead for them to work at the local fish market, peeling shrimp to bring in extra income, or cleaning other people’s houses – the immediate attraction of securing much needed, additional income for their family overshadowed the long term benefits and prospects that an education could offer. Resistance was even greater, when the child in question was a girl. The thought of the girls in the community wearing football shorts and playing football was incredibly alien and deemed socially unacceptable. Ashok worked tirelessly to convince the community of the long-lasting worth of an education, and, at the same time, challenge the repressive and outdated attitudes towards women and girls in the community.
Fast-forward to 2017, OSCAR now has over 5,000 children in its various programs stretching out over 3 other states in India. With it’s roots still remaining very much in Mumbai – OSCAR boasts 3 separate teams in Ambedkar Nagar covering ages 9-18 for both boys, and girls. The OSCAR Foundation continues to keep children off the streets, and in school – employing football as a tool to encourage social change.
This is the story of how football has been used to break a vicious cycle of poverty by facilitating and promoting the value of education. Kids destined for dead end jobs, have now been instilled with a confidence and self-belief through the power of education. These kids who had potentially been written off by the world are now aspiring to be doctors, lawyers and business leaders – genuinely believing they can make a better life for themselves and future generations.
This is a story of opportunity, and how football has instilled faith, hope and economic change in the lives of those who need it most.