Upon arriving, and on thirty minutes of sleep, I plopped my stuff down at the Yuwa HQ house, met a couple of the girls, and got to work in the fields planting ropa. Ropa, while being a source of income and food, is also the noose choking the girls from opportunity. To plant it, you basically have to remain at a ninety degree angle bent forward, and plant one seed at a time by hand for acres in straight lines.
The plots of land were outlined by narrow "walkways" of mud. I reluctantly stepped heel-to-toe to the plot of land the girls were working on where I decided to leap in: into the 1-2 foot deep mud under the Indian sun. I was so overtired. I had not had thirty seconds to come to grips with what I was doing or where I was.
My trip to Yuwa was pretty impromptu. I had made the arrangements about three weeks prior while virtually unreachable in the mountains adjacent to Everest. I really had no idea what to expect, who Franz was, or what the organization was like. I was just a floating semi-expat, who had wandered herself into a small village in the rice fields. While that may have been the case, there was really nothing to think about. That's the beautiful part about traveling. I was too tired to think, too tired at that point to care. I just wanted to jump in the mud and start planting. There was nothing really to think about - just do, just be.
My lines of rice were certainly not up to par, and the girls were pretty keen on letting me know. They made planting rice almost look elegant, except that there's nothing elegant about it. Throughout the week, I witnessed the girls not going to school to plant ropa five-six hours a day while their brothers headed to school, goofed off at school, and returned only to stop and stare at the girls planting. Ropa, a forced and meager opportunity at livelihood, is just one of the obstacles the girls face.
That first afternoon though, I was informed we were heading out. About twenty of the girls were given the rare opportunity to take an overnight field trip to the TATA steel football stadium for a match on Sunday.
Getting twenty girls around in India is not an easy feat. It begins with arranging about 4 rickshaws and multiple negotiations as to not get ripped off to head to the bus station. Then there's the cautious bus ride. Remember, Jharkhand is the state with the most girls trafficked in the country, and Franz is justifiably extremely protective over the girls.
During the bus ride, Bollywood videos blasted, my hair was braided multiple times, I dozed in and out of sleep, and I had told half the girls that I was indeed not married...only ten more girls to go, I assured myself.
The weekend was similar to a sleep-away camp....except Indian style of course. The girls were restless and excited for the match the following day, they took turns borrowing my camera to take their pictures, and I finally finished letting everyone know I was not married.
The next morning was game day. The field was nothing like Yuwa has, which are generally scraps of land in which Franz has tirelessly negotiated to be allowed to use. The TATA athletic director, a very nice guy who seemed truly dedicated to the cause, attended with some various self-proclaimed important people promoting corporate social responsibility to greet the girls and show them support.
The match left me in a trance. You would absolutely never believe where these girls come from by merely watching them play football. The raw talent was unbelievable. The scissor kicks, crossovers, headers, passing, the strategy - just a fantastic game. The girls ended up losing 4-3, but they still had a fantastic match. At the time, they needed a little work on anticipating and positioning, but that was something they would continue to work on.
What left you glowing on the inside was watching Anand, the head coach, so passionately encouraging these girls. Anand is a twenty something year old guy who, for what I could tell at the time, had no reason other than his passion to dedicate himself to Yuwa. He was up at HQ at 5:00 AM at the latest to prepare for practice every single morning. He was always present, always full of vigor, and reliably full of compassion for the girls. He cheered those girls on at the match with more fervor than I had ever witnessed after playing the game for ten years as a kid in the States.
It was safe to say by the end of the weekend, I had a decent grasp on the potential for the organization, but more importantly on the organic authenticity of it. It was critical to understand that if it would grow, it would do so because of the girls, by the girls, and for the girls, and only directed by the game - not by an outside source who would want to take credit for such a social change. Yes, unfortunately while development and non-profits can hide inside an egg-shell of idealist humanitarian principles, inside the field, it can be just as messy and full of greed as any for-profit sector; except in this case, there's so much more at stake: not financially of course, but there are real lives on the brink of something great here. Football as a change agent might be the most powerful of them all, and it's critical to protect its integrity for these girls' sake at minimum.