On July 15th, the Schwan’s USA CUP International Youth Soccer Tournament kicked off in Blaine, Minnesota. Spanning four days, the tournament brought teams from all over the world together to compete and, more importantly, have fun with and learn from their peers. This year marked the first time ever that a team represented India in the competition. Known as the Yuwa Super Goats, the team of 20 girls from Jharkhand, India, was playing for more than the chance to be crowned champions. They wanted to show other Indian girls that there are many opportunities open to women, including playing soccer.
The girls earned their chance to travel to Minnesota through their heart and determination, with a little help from Edina, Minnesota native Franz Gasler. He first went to India seven years ago while working as a consultant, only to discover that his true passion lay with improving the status of India’s girls. In Jharkhand, over 55 percent of young women enter into child marriages and a similar number are illiterate, leading to a cycle from which few can escape. In 2009, Gasler founded Yuwa with the help of three other Minnesotans, and it has grown into one of the largest soccer programs in India. Since opening, over 600 girls have become members of the organization; currently there are 250 players with 150 practicing every day. Yuwa, which translates to “youth,” is the only sports-for-development organization in India, where each of the teams is self-initiated by the girls. In addition to soccer practice, each week they attend workshops that cover a wide swath of topics, including self-esteem, gender, and basic finance skills. The Khan Academy has even translated lessons into Hindi and Urdu for the workshops’ use.
The girls were able to test out what they learned on and off the field last July in Spain, where they placed third in the Gasteiz Cup tournament. During one of Spain’s biggest youth soccer tournaments, the Donosti Cup, they made it to the quarter finals. Their efforts attracted worldwide support, including that of former U.S. Ambassador to India H.E. Ambassador Nancy Powell, who made Yuwa’s base in Jharkhand her first stop during her tour of the region. In a statement, Ambassador Powell praised the foundation, stating “Through team sport, Yuwa has provided a platform for the young women to gain confidence and make a change in their world.”
Throughout their time in Minnesota, the girls have done just that. Despite only winning one of their games, the girls were all smiles, choosing to focus on the positive experience that they had and all of the friends that they had made. As ambassadors for the Total Sanitation Campaign, they have gotten toilets for all of their homes and are raising awareness for others in their village who continue to go without modern plumbing. After raising money for the trip, the girls are well on their way to raising $300,000 to fund the construction of a residential center and school for other girls in India.