29 July 2016

The field of football for good entered a new chapter during the 2016 UEFA European Championships, with streetfootballworld and Sport dans la Ville teaming up to host a landmark celebration of the game's positive potential: Festival 16.

 

Festival 16 brought together 500 young participants from all over the globe, selected not only for their skills on the pitch but also their commitment to using the game as a force for good. Over the next two months, we'll be sharing a small selection of their remarkable stories. We start with Gulafsha Ansari, a young Indian who grew up in Asia's biggest slum:

 

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Gulafsha’s relationship with streetfootballworld stretches all the way back to 2010, when she was a shy but friendly participant with the Magic Bus delegation at the Football for Hope Festival 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 
Flash forward six years and she is back, this time as a vocal and inspirational young leader with streetfootballworld network member OSCAR Foundation looking to gain skills that she can use within her projects back home in India.

 

“The first time I was here everything was normal for me”, she says. “In 2010, I was just playing football, something I do almost every day back home. This time I am learning how to run programmes, and to work as a mediator.”

 

Gulafsha grew up in Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia. She started playing football around the age of 10, which drew criticism from many people in her community. As a Muslim girl she faced disapproval for wearing shorts and playing what was considered to be a man’s sport. Fortunately for Gulafsha, her parents were never persuaded by their neighbours, and supported her throughout.

 

“If it wasn’t for my parents’ support, I do not know where I would be now. Maybe I would be married already.” Both of Gulafsha’s sisters were married by the age of sixteen, as is the case with a lot of girls from her community.

 

“I don’t mind if young girls want to get married, as long as they get the chance to experience football just once.” Gulafsha has taken it upon herself to speak with the parents of girls in her community, to explain to them the role football plays in her life. She hopes that other girls can have the same opportunity she has had to play football, and to open their worlds beyond the traditions that would otherwise restrict them.

 

“I stepped out of my comfort zone, because that is what I believe in, and showed my community that Indian girls are allowed to play football,” she tells us. Now 21, Gulafsha has graduated from university and is looking to build a career in sports management.

 

 

It takes a special amount of courage and maturity to challenge long-standing traditions and beliefs, but Gulafsha was determined to open doors for girls who dream of a different life. She now works with around sixty girls in India, teaching football and helping them to grow into strong, independent women who are ready to achieve their dreams. 

“I saw both of my sisters married off when they reached the age of sixteen, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for my life. I stepped out of my comfort zone, because that is what I believe in, and showed my community that Indian girls are allowed to play football.” 

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