News - Conscious Living: OSCAR
Growing up amidst the sprawling slums of Mumbai, 16-year-old Shankar had never seen the inside of a classroom until he joined the OSCAR program. In India only half a day of free schooling is available to under-privileged children making it easy for pupils to fall behind quickly. Shankar failed his end-of-year exams and early on he was ejected from school and sent out to work as a fisherman. Suddenly finding himself with money in his pocket and nothing to do out of work hours, Shankar would roam around looking for ways to amuse himself by smoking, drinking and gambling.
Children play in the slums of Mumbai
The 150,000-strong Ambedka Nagar slum is also where Ashok Rathod was raised and went to the municipal school. His parents wouldn’t allow him to earn money during his school days.
“My parents were always like, ‘you must only go to school and study. You can earn money in later life’. This irritated me a lot at that time.”
But as he continued his studies and his friends fell away from school life Ashok started to notice the same pattern of disaffection amongst them. It bothered him to see his friends habitually wasting their money away gambling and succumbing to addiction so he began to think of ways to engage them in positive activities and encourage them to continue their education.
In 2006 he started the OSCAR foundation to stop this cycle. His aim was to teach football while simultaneously helping children to understand the importance of education. He invited his friends to participate in sports on the condition that they must also attend an informal learning program.
“First we increase their interest in sports,” says Ashok, “Our condition is, if you come here, you have to study. You needn’t be the best player, but you need to be a good human being.”
Mumbai school children
Shankar is now a success story of the program. “Since I joined Oscar I only play and study,” he says. He has now learnt the alphabet, maths biology and simple communication skills. Football is the new focus of his energies.
Ashok’s dream of shaping the next generation as responsible human beings has started to take shape. The program operates a ‘youth leaders’ model, training participants aged between 15-22 to become leaders and deliver the program to the generation below. In 2009 at just 20 years old Ashok was recognised for his pioneering work by CNN who awarded him ‘Young Hero of the Year’. OSCAR now has projects in four states - Mumbai, Goa, Karnataka and Orrisa. The program boasts over 100 young leaders coaching 1000 children a week and is recognised by FIFA Football for Hope and The British Asian Trust.
In 2012 YOO’s Director of Marketing, Michelle Van Vuuren became involved in the foundation, offering her marketing expertise and knowledge of the Indian market to help drive and grow the charity, while boosting funds.
“In recent years I have traveled extensively in India,” says Michelle. “It’s a country of great splendour, mesmerising colour and wide smiles. But it is also a country of forgotten poverty and huge cultural divides. I believe India to be one of the most exciting and vibrant nations to emerge in recent times, and I wanted to be part of its rising, its development, its change for good.
Marketing Director, Michelle Van Vurren
"While the middle class grows and the economy thrives, there are many who get left behind. Poverty and disease are often the results of a lack of education. OSCAR aims to keep children in some of the most impoverished areas of India in education and off the streets. In a country far too familiar with poverty, OSCAR provides a safe haven of leadership training and education for children. After all, if you can make a positive change in one person's life, why wouldn't you?”
Involving girls is the next challenge
Today, Ashok’s concept is catching on, with more and more foundations beginning to spring up around other sports in the slum. The next challenge for OSCAR is the job of convincing conservative neighbourhoods to allow their young girls to participate in the scheme.
“Parents are often the biggest barrier,” says Ashok. “Girls are expected not to go to school and stay at home to do housework and look after younger brothers and sisters or they are sent to work. Sport is seen as a distraction. “
Perceptions are changing though and girls in the program are now benefiting from self-defence classes, learning about empowerment, communication and confidence skills, with impressive results. The OSCAR girls' football team last year competed in the semi-finals of the National Girls' Slum Soccer Tournament in Nagpur and the Homeless Soccer World Cup in Mexico, hard on the heels of the boys' Goan team who won the boys final in Delhi
For more information or to donate to the OSCAR foundation visit: www.oscar-india.org
Images by godwin d & eldh