Sunshine Story: Meet Rhea, a 17-year-old football player, who coaches girls for free!
District level player coaches girls from a civic school for free; she's now planning tourney for them
All of 17, Rhea Raheja is scripting a new age tale of Bend It Like Beckham. The enterprising teen is running a football club, free of cost, exclusively for girls from a civic school in Khar. Rhea doubles up as a coach for the girls as well as fundraiser for the club using her creative talents during her free time. Her dream is now to organise a football tournament for these girls so that they get a chance to showcase their talent.
Rhea, a district-level football player herself, discovered a giant anomaly while volunteering as teacher at the Laxmi Nagar BMC School in Khar. "While interacting with the girls, they started talking about how they did not get to play any sport at the professional level, especially compared with the boys from their school," said Rhea, a Std XII student from Ecole Mondial World School, who has been a volunteer teacher in civic schools since 2016.
A football player for her school team, Rhea then decided to do something about it. "They may or may not be great football players or may not take up the game professionally, but it is important to expose them to a field they are so passionate about," said Rhea. She handpicked 30 girls from the school and convinced their parents to allow them to be out playing football for two hours a week.
Training takes place at the St Andrew's football ground in Bandra on Saturdays. All girls are picked up from school in a bus arranged by Rhea, which takes them straight to the ground and then drops them back to school after practice. When the training sessions began a year ago, Rhea realised that the girls had no way of buying the required football gear. She then decided to raise the money to buy jerseys and shoes. "During my free time and during holidays, I started making biodegradable bags and sold those to raise money. Now, all girls have proper football shoes and jerseys. This makes the training more professional," said Rhea, whose next plan is to organise a football tournament for girls from civic schools.
She said, "I am sure there are girls from other civic schools who are as passionate about playing the game. I want to organise a football tournament so that more students from civic schools get exposure to football."
Rhea's love for football came from her father. "I used to watch my dad play football and started loving the game. But, I always heard that it was a boys' game. Though my parents always supported me, I wanted to prove that football was not gender specific," said Rhea, revealing the genesis of her motivation to work with underprivileged girls.
The girls, too, are equally excited about their football training. Rachana Gaud, a Std V student, said, "Rhea di was fun even as a volunteer teacher, but our excitement doubled when she became our coach. Now, when she says she is planning a tournament with other schools, we are even more excited. This has never happened before." For these girls it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity considering their family backgrounds, where even getting a chance to go to school is a big deal.
The girls' parents, too, seem happy with their progress. "My daughter is enjoying football. Most importantly, we don't have to worry about anything here. The girls are picked up from school and drop back. Only on Saturdays we have to adjust our day a little as we have to come to school a little later to pick them up," said Vaidehi Mishra, mother of Pratiksha, a Std V student and one of the 30 football-playing girls. Pratiksha chipped in, "It feels good to say I play football for my school team. There was no such thing as a girls' football team for our school until now. Our wish now is to play in competitions with others."
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