During our week in Mumbai, the RGU Go: India team had the privilege of visiting the OSCAR Foundation (Organization for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility). The OSCAR foundation is an NGO which empowers underprivileged youths to take responsibility for their education and community development. The foundation uses the means of sporting activities, focusing on football, to involve children and teach them the values and importance of education.
The NGO is currently funded by the British High Commission, TATA Communications and the FIFA Association. They are currently closing a deal with the German Embassy for funding. The RGU Go: India project has also given OSCAR a substantial amount of funding for their efforts also.
In 2006, the local school drop-out ratio of underprivileged children in Mumbai was estimated to be between 40 – 50%. With the help of the OSCAR foundation, children who have benefitted from the NGO’s activities, have decreased this percentage to approximately 10%.
Ashok Rathod, one of the founders of OSCAR, and a key role model within the organisation, told us his story. Ashok was born and brought up in the local Ambedkar Nagar slums in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai. It was common for children to drop out of school at an early age to pursue employment to provide for their families. Ashok’s father worked in the local fishing industry, which is a long, tiring and tough task. His father believed that Ashok’s education was very important, and that he should be focused on only his education to ensure he would end up in a better role in the working world post-graduation.
When Ashok reached the age of those who started to drop out of school, he and his friends were curious to discover what the fishing industry entails, and what it would be like to earn money instead of studying. During their 30-minute lunch breaks, they would rush to the fishing market where they experienced the hustle and bustle of everyday working life around them.
Upon observing the fish market, they noticed that a lot of fisherman would drop a few fish from their buckets as they transported them to and from stalls, and would never have the time or care to pick them up. Ashok and his friends found themselves a bucket, and would aim to fill this bucket as much as possible. They were eventually approached by a member of the public, asking how much their bucket of fish would cost. Pleased with themselves, they sold the bucket, and returned day after day to carry out the same activity. Eventually, Ashok and his friends were making a small earning for themselves and were able to treat themselves to local street food and outings such as cinema trips.
Once Ashok’s father found out, he was not impressed and told him that if he was to never return to the fish market to sell these fish, and instead focus solely on his education. The importance of education had been drilled into Ashok since an early age, therefore he agreed to put a stop to it, and carry on with school. Soon afterwards, his friends who had founded this money making activity soon dropped out of school, and used their money to divulge in smoking, drinking and gambling. Ashok graduated from SSC from the Hindi-medium Colaba Municipal School.
In 2006, he volunteered with the local NGO, Door Step School, which aims to educate children from underprivileged backgrounds. This made Ashok realise that children back in his home town were not focused on their education, and only attending to get the benefits of free meals and eventually drop out to make a contribution towards their household earnings. Ashok decided that he would take action against this and began to influence children from his village to join him in participating in physical activity and sports at the local public park. By teaching the children sports, mainly football, helped them fight against the boredom of studying and motivate them to do well and encourage attendance and completion of school.
Ashok’s curiosity and entrepreneurial skills have been the key element of the creation of the OSCAR Foundation.
“I wanted to give something back to the society and football can help unite students and make them realize the importance of education. I’ve faced opposition from many parents, but people always oppose social changes so I never hesitated. I wanted to be a change maker”
– Ashok Rathod
Currently the project reaches 3,000 children, who live amongst some of the most deprived areas, over 5 states in India. OSCAR is aiming to reach a further 2,000 children within the next 5 years. Out of the total 29 states in India, 17 suffer from poverty, with some earning the equivalent of only £1 per day. It is OSCAR’s aim to target these states to inspire, educate and empower local youths.
Mumbai is a very busy city, with a population of 12 million making it the most densely populated city in the world. The city lacks infrastructure and most importantly, space! With a lack of facilities, the OSCAR foundation are forced to persuade children to travel to public parks to partake in physical activity. This can lose potential children, for example, many parents will not allow children to travel during evenings on their own to and from a public park. During Monsoon season (3 months per year), the charity is forced to move their activities to hired and private grounds, which costs approximately R6,000 per day (the equivalent to approximately £75). As a charity which depends solely on sponsorship and funding, this can be an expensive time for the organization.
OSCAR’s purpose interlinks with the RGU Go: India project; encouraging sport and healthy living to communities around India, promoting the importance and benefits of physical activity and nutrition, and also to encourage female sport participation. When we met with Ashok this week, he stressed the importance of targeting females to participate in sports, as well as males. There is some stigma present regarding sport and physical activity – which the OSCAR foundation has been working hard to fight against by enforcing girls to take power and fight against their elders to be given the chance to participate in sports!