To say that the world can be saved, is perhaps an ambition far too great for an individual or organisation to undertake. But, that does not deter those who, drenched in their idealistic vision, strive to give a better tomorrow to as many lives as they can. Such an endearing effort has been made by BookASmile, a charity initiative of the online entertainment booking behemoth, BookMyShow. Previously, they undertook two articulately designed projects to promote and bring about a happy change in the life of the underprivileged that struggle in the rural and urban regions of India: first, a project that aimed to promote filmmaking at grassroots level; and, second, Yuwa: Football for Empowerment programme.
Despite the myriads of initiatives made by zealous NGOs that work in areas such as education and awareness, BookASmile took an interesting step. Yuwa: Football For Empowerment programme, spanning from April 2017 to March 2018, has taken under its wing girls from 15 villages in Ranchi District, Jharkhand, and has started to train them. They decided that enjoyment and entertainment could also be a means to enriching the lives of the less fortunate. This would leave many with a quizzical expression, as to how one could truly provide something beyond pleasure through entertainment, and here is what the Farzana Cama Balpande, the programme’s chief, had to say to Guardian 20, “We truly believe that sports is a fantastic medium to inculcate values and qualities such as team work, gender equality, discipline, self esteem and self respect.”
Their goals are met by rigorous efforts put in on a regular basis. Balpande further elucidates the details of the initiative, “There are currently about 300 players in Yuwa’s football program, 90% of them are girls. Their age ranges from 5-20 years. And all practices take place on makeshift fields in villages of Ormanjhi, in the morning from 4:45-6:10 a.m. and in the afternoon from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Each team practices five days a week. Once a week, each team has a workshop in which they discuss topics related to health, wellness, rights, life skills, and future planning.” Given the novelty of the idea, there were also bound to be impediments as far as the parents of these children were concerned, which, as Balpande tells were also made part of the whole arrangement. “Yuwa staff meet with parents individually, in their homes, several times a week. These meetings usually include discussions about their daughter’s future and education and the importance of allowing the daughter time to study and play,” she says. “These meetings also cover topics such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, health and hygiene, nutrition and human trafficking.”
Over the past few months that they have been actively training, changes have already begun to surface. The coaches that work with the girls are themselves young girls who are part of the same village; one of them, Radha, who is 16 years old, informed us about the effects visible at ground zero: “What I notice is that after I explain something one time, they start changing the next day. For example, after I spoke with them one time about the importance of coming to practice on time, they all arrived on time the next day. They want to improve.”
Riya, one of the many players in training, studies in the fifth grade at the Yuwa school. Her experience has been nothing less than beautiful. “I feel happy because my team always supports me. If I have any problem, my teammates encourage me to speak. After I share my problems with them, I’m not scared of anything,” she remarked.
Balpande also revealed that there have been holistic improvements in the villages as well due to the hard work put in by those involved. “We have been able to prevent child marriage— over 90% of YUWA’s college-age girls are attending college. All Yuwa girls attend school regularly, which is rare considering this is in a place where 60% of the girls drop out,” she said.
Added to all this is another tangible aim that shall be fulfilled by the end of the programme: ten girls will be sent to Spain for the UEFA- Level 1 training programme.
Besides the Football for Empowerment project, BookASmile had also brought filmmaking to grassroots levels. During the month of May, earlier this year, BookASmile along with multiple NGOs brought together filmmakers like Kabir Bedi, Satish Kaushik, Prakash Jha, Farah Khan, Jackie Shroff, Sudhir Mishra, Shaan and Sid Makker. These filmmakers went to Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, and taught over 250 children, in the age bracket of 4-16 years old, about how to work with various aspects of filmmaking. The overall goals yet again were more than simply teaching children what a camera can do: they were able to grant insight to these children into the vast world out there and all the different forms of opportunities that are available.
BookASmile has turned the concept of bringing a change in the lives of people over its head; they aim to innovate in terms of methods so as to bring intrinsic change in the individual character of the children they take into their programmes. The goal is simple and so are the methods, but the outcomes have been more than complex. They have been able to bring more than a smile on the faces of the many kids they have come across. A world has been unveiled to them and a sense of hope has been added to their lives. And, their ceaseless efforts target to continue improving the children as well as their lives.
The children, as an outcome of the filmmaking programme, made 12 short films, which were showcased at the Alive Short Film Festival in Mumbai in the month of May. One of the participants in the programme, Suresh Harijan, from the Vatsalya Foundation, shared his experience, “I learnt multiple aspects of film making from this workshop like Camera angles, story writing and direction.”