Monday, April 2, 2012

Yuwa means youth! Part1

Today, I stumbled upon a friend's TED talk in Ranchi, the capital of one of the most deplorable states in India, Jharkhand, to grow up in as a young girl.

Meet Franz Gastler.

I had the privilege to get to know him and the girls at Yuwa-India for about a week and a half this past summer.  His conviction is inspiring, and his practice of humility and patience in order to change the social norms of a society that generally doesn't think twice about the role of girls has stood unwavering while tested against frustration, doubt, and sometimes hostile cultural differences.

I've written about Yuwa before, but this reflection (first of 3 parts) is what I wrote while there, and I think it's critical to share the raw experience that began the Phoenix Fund. Read, check out the site, share the cause, and donate if you're moved. Thanks.

I flew from Kathmandu to Delhi to Mumbai to Ranchi.  Upon arriving in Ranchi, I had been traveling for twenty-four hours, had slept thirty minutes and stood bewildered at the brink of filthy exhaustion. My last flight, from Mumbai to Ranchi, was half empty and filled with Indian business men.  To say I looked out of place may be an understatement.  I was a disheveled white girl with a backpack twice my size. Not to mention, no one goes to Jharkhand.  

Per exiting the plane with my oversized backpack dangling with scarves and a village teapot (my prized collections from Salleri, Nepal) I trudged on to meet my ride.

In the sea of Indian business men inquisitively staring stood a lone white guy in his late twenties, sporting a white motorcycle jacket and who exuded an overall bad ass swagger.

This is Franz Gastler.

Franz got on his motorcycle, I got in a cab, and we took off to Hutub, about thirty minutes outside Ranchi to Yuwa's headquarters.

The first think one should know about Jharkhand is that no one goes there besides business men. It is the leading state in India for sex trafficking and has a literacy rate for women that hovers around 50%. 

Yuwa is a "small" NGO that uses football as a platform for girls' development in the areas of health, education and livelihood. I say it is small as compared to the typical Indian NGO (although there are good ones if you now where to look) that falsely attempt to save the world by hoarding government money.  However, what Yuwa (meaning youth in India) lacks in organizational size and big international organization funding, it more than delivers with social impact and heart that oozes out of the girls it serves and is mostly run by.

There’s virtually zero overhead as Franz, the executive director, and one or two unpaid interns at a time guide the organization.  However, while the interns and Franz run the logistics, the real director of the organization is the game itself.  As someone who has visited rural India and Nepal, one expects to find girls in the fields, and if they even possess the confidence to say hello to a Westerner, it is merely a brief "Namaste" with a small bow of the head and timid smile.  Essentially, it is the “Namaste” of a servant.

Not Yuwa's girls.

On the contrary, timidness, an attitude of servitude, and weakness have been transformed into confidence, bright smiles and strength. And, although they have all the odds in the world stacked against them, you would never know their roots by judging their play on the football field.

Check out the TED talk and stay tuned for Part 2/3 next time!

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