Football in Pallavi Raga!

The five years with Dream a Dream have seen Pallavi Shyam Sundar progress from a participant in 2014 for a FIFA football festival in Brazil to being named as one of the Young Ambassadors for Qatar’s Generation Amazing programme that aims to promote development through football in the underprivileged communities across the world.

Pallavi Shyam Sundar an educator, a football facilitator and a change-maker in Bengaluru.   -  ANJANA SENTHIL

Pallavi Shyam Sundar is all of 22. She is an educator, a football facilitator and a change-maker whose persistent efforts have resulted in the conversion of a dumpyard into a playground in just two months.

In that very ground, she now teaches football and imparts invaluable life skills to 150 schoolchildren of The Round Table School in Roopena Agrahara, Bengaluru, week in and week out. “Akka, akka..,” the cheerful jersey-clad boys and girls vie for her attention and share their views and personal stories, all revolving around the day’s topic. From gender equality to teamwork to traffic rules, the topics vary with every session.

“It took me time to get them to open up, now even the kids who don’t discuss during the group session come to me and personally share their thoughts,” she says. It is evident they adore and look up to her. She is confident, affirmative and has no trouble getting the excited younglings latch on to every syllable she utters.

To think she was once a shy introvert whose only solution to problems — sometimes as simple as a scolding from parents or teachers — was suicide. The fading slit marks on her left wrist remind her every day of how far she has come.

The beginning

“In class 8, Dream A Dream, an NGO, came to my school to implement a few programmes. They had rugby, not football then, so I decided to enrol in the computer and career connect programmes,” she recollects.

After Class 12, she decided to join Dream a Dream as a football and life skills facilitator. “I learnt football only then. Revanna (her mentor) used to come and spend time with us. For the first time, I felt comfortable as he gave me the safe space to talk and explore myself in front of others. For the first time, I managed to speak very confidently,” she says.

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The sizeable group that is being mentored by Pallavi.   -  ANJANA SENTHIL

 

The five years with Dream a Dream have seen her progress from a participant in 2014 for a FIFA football festival in Brazil to being named as one of the Young Ambassadors for Qatar’s Generation Amazing programme that aims to promote development through football in underprivileged communities across the world. Generation Amazing is a social responsibility programme run by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy as a lead-up to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Started in 2010, Generation Amazing, through its young ambassadors in Qatar, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Lebanon, Jordan, Brazil, South Africa and Syria, takes up activities like construction of community football pitches, develop comprehensive training module that "promotes sustainable behaviours among young people in Qatar and across the region".  At least 17 football pitches have been constructed in Qatar and the surrounding region.

Pallavi now does her part for the programme by planning sessions, preparing study modules and building an action plan that members from other countries can follow. "We were given presentations and taken around the city for some fun activities. We have been asked to continue doing what we have been doing in India. It is merely an extension of what I do with Dream A Dream. They ask for weekly reports and plan sessions that will be beneficial for others," Pallavi, one of the 14 Youth Ambassadors from India, says.

After the short stint in Qatar in May, Pallavi also made a pit stop at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as a Young Leader and took a Football3 session for members of streetfootballworld, a network of non-profit organisations in more than 60 countries. It uses Football3 methodology to strengthen and develop communities.

“A lot of them didn’t even know English, so I went around and sought help until I found one who could speak English and assist me with the class that had participants from countries like Spain, Belgium, Pakistan and Iran. The organising committee appreciated my effort and gave me a positive feedback on my classes,” the young woman says.

A valuable programme

What is Football3? Pallavi explains: “It’s a methodology followed to bring young children together and developing life skills with focus on communication, teamwork, gender equality, peace and fair play. It is divided into three parts: a pre-discussion where both the teams sit and decide on three rules which they will follow along with the general football rules. It may range from cheering whenever a goal is scored to allowing girls to get equal opportunities to kick the ball around or guard the goalpost.

“It is followed by a 12-15 minute football game played between mixed gender teams after which they sit down for a post-match discussion where the children reflect on the match and the life lessons they learnt through them.”

Back home, in Bengaluru, Pallavi doesn’t stop at fulfilling her duty as a facilitator with Dream aDream. Enjoying the benefits of the programme, the self-sufficient young woman has taken it upon herself to do more for her community. While taking lessons in a small space within the school premises, she took the initiative to reclaim ground for sports. “People used to dump garbage and men urinated out in the open right next to the school. I approached the community local leader and sought his help,” she recollects.

Impressed by her work and the attention she commands from the youngsters, the community leader Ramakrishna guided her to contact the landowner and the MLA. She was able to convince and get them all on board with her idea and converted the dumpyard into a playground in just under two months.

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Pallavi, Rajeshwari, Praveen Kumar, Bhaskar and Srikanth pictured in Bangalore on June 16, 2014 when they were all set to go to Brazil as part of the ‘Football for Hope,’ programme.   -  G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

 

She didn’t stop at that either. Wanting to get more people involved in the programme, she took permission from the authorities concerned and approached government and community schools — which were not partners of Dream a Dream and hardly had exposure to Football in school — to participate in a tournament to inaugurate the playground. Of the 20 schools she approached, 15 fell in line with her idea of a tournament based on football3 methodology and decided to send a team of six boys and six girls each.

She had no financial backing, but well-wishers within the community helped her realise her wish. Half a dozen autorickshaw drivers came on board to handle transportation and another community member offered to arrange for refreshments. An audio system, medals and certificates — she found a benefactor to help her with it all and the tournament was successfully conducted on December 12 last year. “The children and the school administrators all went back with smiles on their faces.”

Once the ground was in place, other youngsters in the area showed eagerness to learn football from her. Apart from her afternoon classes for the school, she decided to conduct football sessions in the morning which were open for all. She gets an average of 40-50 participants every single day. Encouragingly, 20-25 are girls.

In the next two years, she is hoping to get a ground in the BTM Layout area of Bengaluru to be made accessible for sports. From involving the parents and other elders in the community in the activity to building a professional girls’ team, she has more dreams for the future and is diligently working towards them.

She is not alone in her endeavour. Dream a Dream has 16 facilitators doing similar work through the medium of football in the region. There are a dozen other NGOs across the country which develop communities and teach youngsters life-skill lessons through sports like handball, netball, modbox (modified boxing) among others. But Pallavi’s is a story that needs to be told, for hope and inspiration.