Last week we had Sunday morning football practice in Jamalpur. The players from that slum continue to anchor the MS football program, being amongst our most talented and committed. Recently they have nurtured a girls team to start learning the game as well. The leader of the girls team, Sonal, was a bad apple before, getting into trouble and bullying kids. But after embracing football, she has left all the gambling and gangsterism, even going back to school as a 16-year-old learning to read with the 5th graders. She and her family attribute football as the catalyst. Now her parents want her to make a name for the family as a football star.
Now that there is a girls team as well, we went to Jamalpur to practice rather than making the 40 kids all travel to the ashram. There were two stories from the practice that I wanted to record.
The Jamalpur kids play in a dumping ground next to a riverbank. Once in a while a ball bounces over the wall and into the river. They have an ingenious method to retrieve the balls. They keep a gunny sack filled with heavy rocks on the side. When a ball splashes in, they immediately spring into action. One person runs and drags out the rocks. Then they start throwing them around the ball to get the ripples to move the ball to the near-side bank. They keep doing this until the ball trickles to a break in the embankment where they can reach down and scoop up the ball. They’ve even created a scooper made out of an old bag and rope that they throw in to scoop up the ball from afar. I love how they stay prepared with the rocks and how they used a local materials for an effective solution.
The other story is about Ravi, one of our veteran players. Ravi is one of the sweetest kids on the team. He is quiet but confident. He is very responsible; he looks after the other kids and always helps with managing the equipment and setting up drills. This past Diwali his family was in a tough financial situation. They had no money to celebrate Diwali, where typically all family members get presents. The Jamalpur football players are very close; they are like brothers and remind me of the Goonies. They all knew Ravi was not going to get any presents, so they all pooled their own gift money together. They raised Rs.1000 and bought Ravi new clothes. This is no small amount and in my book no small act of generosity. I told the children that this is the real meaning of team. Team isn’t just about passing the ball to each other on the field. It’s having each other’s back in life. I couldn’t have been more proud.
During this practice Ravi was on fire. He’s developed into our top two or three players in the program. He scored about 4 really exceptional goals. One was an upper-V rocket, another was a great header off of a throw-in where he got good position and caught it high and strong, a couple other speed plays. After one of the goals he scored and ran back to his side in celebration. He yelped and his hands were outstretched. He leaped high in the air, kicked his feat out, tossed back his head, and landed into the arms of a teammate screaming. It was a leap of joy, pure joy. It was breath-taking. Just writing about it right now, I can see it in my mind’s eye and it brings tears to my eyes. I wish more than anything that I could have captured that goofy glorious jump for joy.
Football is a simple game. It’s basically a ball and some open space. But with that bit of nothing, a child going through very tough times can experience unbridled joy. What strength and resilience and dignity these kids have. It’s so inspiring to me.
This was, in a nutshell, why I love these kids and feel blessed to have them in my life.