Football in the Punjab is as passionate as football around the world. This applies to both the Punjabi states, West-Punjab in Pakistan and East-Punjab in India, together home of some 100 Million Punjabis. Where poverty, history and borders divide, football has the power to build opportunities. Mr. Gurmangal Dass (Youth Football Club, Rurka Kalan, India) and Mr. Fawad Usman Khan (Sudhaar Society, Lahore, Pakistan) are founders of two Punjabi organizations that use football to work with children and youth for tackling social problems at large. With International Children’s Football Alliance they now shared their work and their learnings. The first time they speak about their recent plan to institute a Pan-Punjab programme.
The Youth Football Club Rurka Kalan was established in 2000 as a community football club in the Jalandhar District of Punjab (North India), close to the border with Pakistan. Recognising the lack of opportunities in the region, the club developed into an organisation which not only provides football training, but gives its participants access to opportunities for positive personal development. The club combats a number of social issues in the local area. Mr. Gurmangal Dass (GD), President of YFC Rurka Kalan was a member of his local football team while studying engineering. His love for the game inspired him to develop the club into a Sports-for-Development organization.
GD. The power of football brings communities together – young people love to play a game of football. They have a lot of energy to burn and through sports and play they discover talents which they enjoy exploring. In some areas of the Jalandhar district it can be a tough place to live; many children and young people find it difficult to find time to play. They are born into adult driven environments and have very little childhood. Limited education levels and lacking livelihood opportunities make young people vulnerable against drugs and violence.
RESTORING THE CHILDHOOD OF MILLIONS OF CHILDREN
When we started we were a village club of approximately 100 children 14 to 16 years of age. Today there are 12 community centres around the district delivering a pilot learning programme to 1,200 children with more and more girls attending. Over 50 volunteers, 17 full time members of staff and 13 part time members of staff, all coming from the local communities, working together to help restore childhood. Developing life skills and vocational skills they finally seek to deliver confident young people into the workplace or higher education. Since its inception YFC has not only touched the lives of more than 10,000 underprivileged children but also provided livelihood to hundreds of youth. It has produced 15 international players and hundreds of National level footballers including Anwar Ali who had 31 caps for Indian team. The organisation’s core strength has been community participation and support.
Often we have coaches visiting us from countries like Canada or UK, next spring also from Spain, imparting their knowledge of the game to young people. There are many positive aspects that have grown from our humble beginnings: Intergenerational relationships, community cohesion and there is a tremendous sense of pride at home and abroad with many friends and ex-pats supporting our work. For instance, ex-pat Jas Sandhu (Associate Director, Coventry City Football Club) travels the world supporting of YFC Rurka Kalan, raising funds and awareness of the good work currently under taken in the Punjab through football.
TACKLING CHILD LABOUR
Sudhaar was founded in 1994 in Lahore by a group of eight social and human rights activists initially focused on child protection and the quality improvement of education in formal and non-formal sectors. Fighting child labour in the football-stitching industry the organization established a football league for several hundred stitching children and their younger siblings. The programme simply gave children back a bit of their childhood through sports and play. It involved parents working with them on the significance of play and education for children. It linked communities to efficient formal and informal education facilities. Mr Fawad Usman Khan (FK), CEO of Sudhaar, Electrical engineer by profession, community worker and child rights activist by choice, founded Sudhaar along with seven other like-minded friends and colleagues.
FK. Since its inception Sudhaar has worked with hundreds of schools and thousands of deprived children across Pakistan in multiple areas such as child protection and child labour, quality in education, child health, livelihoods and gender equity. Till today we are fascinated how outdoor activities and sports can help children to discover and develop their own interests and talents. Through experiential learning curricula we could build self-confidence and self-efficacy, through events such as football tournaments we were able to reach the families and communities of the children we work with and address complex issues on multiple stakeholder levels. That is the reason why we were very curious when we first learned about the idea to send a mixed team of children from deprived communities from West- and East-Punjab to the FIFA Football For Hope Festival in Brazil next summer.
A PAN PUNJAB IDEA
Unfortunately the concept did not qualify in the FIFA Football for Hope selection process at the first attempt. Nevertheless the momentum of the dialogue with our new friends from YFC led us into a conversation on how to use the power of football to improve people to people relations and cooperation between India and Pakistan in a Pan-Punjabi context.
GD. History records that the border between India and Pakistan has been troubled for many years. Ultimately, we feel that young people through football and sport can improve relations and move forward. We understand that young people are the future. That is why we want to succeed with Pan-Punjab project. Young people want to form new relationships, want to create new opportunities.
KICK FOR TOLERANCE
We are keen to scale YFC´s programmatic reach across the Punjab and moreover to cross-border link them with Sudhaar. Under the working title “Kick For Tolerance” we currently together assess the possibilities to establish twin schools and facilitate cross-border events where children, families and communities can feel safe and enjoy their activities. On the impact level we seek to create mutual respect and tolerance across cultures, borders and religions. Positive social and economic climate changes resulting from this initiative shall become visible one day and generate new livelihood opportunities across the Punjab.
FK. We are under no illusions that there are indeed years of issues to over-come, however, there is a generation of positive and pro-active people, wanting to change the current climate. There is a strong sense of purpose. The key is good neighbourly relations between the two sides – young people should have the opportunity to unlock the obstacles. Being part of the global team game football is a road to becoming part of a global community. We are positive that our partnership with YFC will foster an environment of goodwill on both sides of the border. Together with the support of international community, we will be able to make a genuine contribution in creating tolerance and promote friendships between the people of the two countries.
GD. Punjab links around the world are very strong. Second and third generation Punjab families are reconnecting with their roots. Funding from ex-pats has provided a much needed platform for our work. We now seek to build on that platform and need running costs to sustain the good work. The International Children’s Football Alliance is a wonderful opportunity for the Pan-Punjab idea to reach a wider audience. Punjabi communities in Britain, Europe and the rest of the world can connect with our work, duplicate the good intentions and help accommodate events that promote education, protect childhood and provide access to cross community activities, through football and sport. There is potential for a legacy here.
Is there value in a voice for children through an International Children’s Football Alliance?
GD. Absolutely, there is a genuine need for a voice for children through an organisation that values childhood. An International Children’s Football Alliance provides organisations and clubs like YFC a platform to share best practice, support likeminded children’s football groups, educate young people, parents and practitioners.
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How can you help?
Individuals, governments, corporates, international organizations and others can help and support our endeavors through:
• volunteer activity
• contributions & donations in other forms or in-kind
|Bank Name:||Union Bank of India
Rurka Kalan Branch, 144031
|Account Name:||Youth Football Club Rurka Kalan|
• YFC is a registered charity with the Department of Income Tax, Govt. of India. Exempted under 80G of income tax act.
• Income Tax Exemption Number: CIT/JAL-II/TRUST/206