All hashtags
Human Interest

The real-life ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ – Project YUWA in India

By - May 29, 2017
Comment (0)

In the rural village district of Jharkhand in India, 6 in 10 girls drop out of school and become child brides. Jharkhand is also said to have the lowest ratio of teachers per government school in the whole of India, and is among the worst for female literacy. The wider region also ranks among the worst for human trafficking and worst in sanitation, key issues also creating challenges for empowering girls and women.

YUWA is a special NGO organisation delivering programs with the aim to put girls’ futures back in their own hands— and to rewrite the script that rural Indian society has assigned them. / YUWA / YUWA

The grass-roots projects do more than simply delay marriage until the age of eighteen— although, this is a prevalent issue at the core of their aim to combat child-brides. But they are also enabling girls to break out of the cycle of poverty and make powerful decisions about their futures.

“Our intensive, holistic programs provide girls with the tools and skills they need to reach their full academic potential, develop critical and creative thinking skills, and become compassionate, empowered leaders in their communities,” Franz Gastler, Executive Director and CO-Founder of YUWA told Newsivity. / YUWA / YUWA

“It must also be noted, that successful programs empowering girls and women like ours in Jharkhand can and should be used as models to replicate across any other state in India where the need is clear,” Gastler added.

e: [email protected]

So how did Yuwa start? And what were the early motivations and inspirations to set up the projects?

Yuwa was originally founded in 2009 by Franz Gastler and three of his high school friends (Stephen Peterson, Greg Deming, Erik Odland). Franz is from Minnesota (USA) and has a BA and Masters from the University Professors program at Boston University, and is a graduate of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Franz Gastler

Driven by a curiosity to understand the real dynamics that drive the “Bottom of the Pyramid” and supported by Sam Pitroda, Franz first came to India to work with CII on corporate CSR models in Gurgaon. After 1 year, Franz left CII to get a more real on-the-ground experience, and landed in an NGO in Jharkhand. He left the NGO to do something more meaningful and impactful – living in a village and starting youth programs. Originally, Yuwa was a scholarship foundation for hard-working students from a government school to attend a private English Medium school. Franz and the three other co-founders pooled their money together for the scholarships.

At the same time, some girls from the school where Franz was volunteering as an English teacher asked if he would coach a football team. Despite the fact that Franz was not a football player, he said yes. He had many years of experience coaching kids downhill skiing in his hometown, Edina, Minnesota. / YUWA / YUWA

At first Franz tried to start the football program for girls and boys— but the boys were inconsistent in their attendance and wouldn’t commit to coming to practices. The girls, however, showed outstanding work ethic and dedication. This was the first time a program had been especially designed for girls.

In the village, girls are expected to spend all of their time in the service of their families—not going to school, not studying, and certainly not having fun or playing sports. More and more girls joined the Yuwa team. The program started to gain momentum when an after-school English class was offered for the football girls. At this point, Yuwa was led by Franz, three local boys that Franz helped train as football coaches, a local woman who primarily worked with the girls’ mothers, and volunteers who came in to teach English and Math classes. / YUWA / YUWA

Through the positive peer pressure created by daily team practices, girls started going to school everyday, taking an interest in their own education, and simply taking care of themselves. Before joining, they were shy, quiet girls who mumbled responses with their eyes on the ground. After months of daily practice and affirmation in a positive social network, they became confident, bold football players who weren’t afraid to introduce themselves to strangers.

After a year, it was obvious that football teams had the potential to be an effective platform of organising and empowering young women. / YUWA / YUWA

Yuwa has certainly faced many challenges over the years, as do many NGO’s despite their important service requirement: resistance from parents, jealousy and hostility from people in the village, abuse from government officials and AIFF coaches, difficulty acquiring proper playing grounds, to name just a few. The girls themselves, however are the ones who face the most challenges. These are best understood in the girls’ own words:

A TEDx talk delivered by Director Franz Gastler and a Yuwa player:

In addition to the Football training and workshops, the YUWA School is an innovative and excellent, low-cost English Medium school for girls. The YUWA School’s atmosphere is one of collaboration, respect and mutual learning. The vision of the school is: “Every girl’s future in her own hands.”

“Our mission is to enable students to reach their full academic potential, develop critical and creative thinking skills, and become compassionate, empowered leaders in their communities,” Franz Gastler told Newsivity.

YUWA projects work to build up strong, positive teams that act as a second family for the girls, to give them the support and encouragement necessary to take control of their lives despite the extreme pressure put upon them to give in. The most frustrating side of the projects as can be expected when dealing with such densely populated community regions, is that they cannot ‘save’ all girls from the society pressures inflicted on them even in this day and age or progression across India. / YUWA / YUWA

Maintaining sources of funding is yet another, common challenge faced by YUWA, but with some quite high-profile campaigns, and many celebrity and business supporters they are going strong.

Currently some sources of Yuwa’s funding include from Lenovo, BookMyShow, Round Table of India, FIFA (Football for Hope), the German government, and a number of private donors.

What they will always require is more support and help from communities worldwide. Not just to help them continue the important work on the ground, but to also provide further validity to the girls accessing the services and to show them that they are just as important as anyone else in society. / YUWA / YUWA

Every individual matters, and every individual has the rights to live their lives exactly how they wish to and to be given equality of opportunity despite where they are born, and what demographic they may happen to belong to.


To Support the work of YUWA, go to:

Special Thanks to: The YUWA team and Sandeep Kumar

Video Edit: Vin Sharma

e: [email protected]