Young girl doing martial arts © Rusha Bose
Young girl doing martial arts © Rusha Bose ©

© Rusha Bose

Sharmistha, 14, lives in one of the most socially deprived areas of Kolkata, India. With limited educational and career opportunities, and the ever-present proximity to crime, her life had assumed a set pattern where the limits of her aspirations were marriage and the raising of a family.

This changed the day that coaches from our Premier Skills programme came knocking on her door.

“The Premier Skills training was my first experience of football. In fact it was also my first experience of a team sport, where I could participate. In my community and in the place where we live, girls are not encouraged to step out of the house, they are in fact quite often forced to live a life hidden from the eyes of even the neighbours.”

Working with the police, government authorities, local football teams and other partners, Premier Skills has so far changed the lives of over 1,000 young people in Kolkata, providing them with regular football coaching sessions three times a week, leadership training and volunteering programmes to support social and health issues in their community. With many of the project areas falling within the red light district, some of the girls, including Sharmistha, have also received martial arts training for self-protection.

For Sharmistha, involvement in the programme has been transformational. She now wants to become a teacher and aspires to be a national football player.

“The thing I enjoy most about these sessions is the sense of freedom and confidence that I get from them. Thinking back to my life before I joined these sessions, I can feel the difference within me. I am no longer shy or afraid to speak up when something is wrong. Through these football training sessions, I have come to see myself as a special individual, one whose life is just as important as any other persons. The sense of self respect, value and confidence that I have attained through my participation in this programme is something that is very dear to me.

“I would have led a very ordinary life if this programme had not come into my life.”

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