“I was not happy with my life, I hated myself, I knew I needed to change.” Govind Rathod
Film lovers across the world were moved to tears by the harrowing story of Saroo, in the OSCAR nominated film ‘Lion’. Five-year-old Saroo, accidently separated from his family in Central India sets out alone to find them. Narrowly escaping child abductions, begging for food and sleeping rough Saroo never gave up his search. Tales like Saroo’s are not uncommon amongst the poorest communities in India. The OSCAR Foundation has many young people who overcome the gravest of circumstances, striving daily against the odds to improve their lives. Oscar holds their hand and guides those seeking change.
Govind Rathod, 24, is the OSCAR Young Leader Programme Trainer and in charge of the Karnataka project. His job is to motivate and lead, to be a role model and mentor for underprivileged children. His own story of ‘triumph over adversity’ surely gives him the necessary skills to help marginalised young people to follow the right path and realise their dreams. Govind grew up in Karnataka, South West India, later moving to the slum community in Mumbai, where he lived with his three older brothers, his mother and abusive, alcoholic father. At the tender age of 10, the young Govind began to resent his family and hated bearing witness to his mother’s regular beatings. He was forced to work a gruelling 13 hour day, serving tea and washing up, to earn a mere 600 rupees (£7.00) a month to give his family. After work he spent the evening cooking and washing clothes for the family and looking after his brother’s child. His older brothers had problems; they worked but spent their earnings on gambling and alcohol. At only 13 years old he was expected to provide for the whole family. Life was insufferable and Govind needed a way out.
With their lives spiralling out of control and mounting debt, his parents migrated to a new area, leaving Govind behind to continue his studies. After two months, hungry and unhappy he decided to run away and find work that would fill his belly. There was no one to guide him; he was all alone and free to do what he wanted. Govind was a wilful and spirited boy; he describes himself as “an aggressive daredevil that was always ready to pick a fight. The anger was a result of my childhood. Now all I feel for my parents is love and I work hard to support and give them a good life.”
Two years later, aged 15 Govind returned to Mumbai to catch up with friends. He was amazed to see them playing football. He wanted to join in but first he had to get the permission of the founder of The OSCAR Foundation. Ashok asked Govind how his studies were coming on and was disappointed to hear he had dropped out of school. Ashok insisted Govind return to school; he would then be allowed to play football with OSCAR. Football gave this self-governing child the chance to forget about family troubles, to experience teamwork, learn fair play and good sportsmanship. The next few days were pivotal for Govind, informing his parents he would not be returning to get married, instead he would stay in Mumbai and play football with his friends. He recognised OSCAR had provided a lifeline and was not prepared to throw the opportunity away. He moved into his brother’s tiny crowded house in Ambedkar Nagar. Ten years later he still lives in the same house, returning home after work to wash and eat and then clambers onto the roof, where he has slept for over 15 years.
The OSCAR Foundation and the mentorship of Ashok guided this vulnerable child back to education. Enrolling in school was tough for Govind, he had to start in 7th standard, two years below his friends. He was mortified to wear shorts when they were allowed to wear long trousers. This tough little ‘daredevil’ feared he would be bullied and ridiculed. The kids did tease him, which only made him more determined to work hard. He graduated with 74% at 10th standard… all the time doing several different jobs, housekeeping and working at night selling magazines at traffic lights to pay for fees, books and food. Today Govind is an integral member of the OSCAR team. He continues to juggle a demanding job with studies and is saving hard to pay tuition fees to study Sports Management at Mumbai University. He would like to expand the OSCAR Young Leader Programme internationally and of course continue to be a role model in his community.
In 2014 Govind was selected to attend the Street Football World forum in Brazil taking place during the World Cup. He never dared to dream he would ever visit another country but with guidance from OSCAR and his new passport he was bound for Rio. He called his friend “Brother, finally I have sat on a plane and I am ready to fly.” In Brazil, Govind joined international delegates to learn about diverse communities and the issues they face. The most resonant message was ‘education’. Education is the key and football is the universal language to encourage young people to go to school. Later he was invited to a UN conference in South Korea, where he learnt to develop educational programmes and work with disabilities and to Vietnam on a coaching and Adidas football exchange programme. More recently, Govind has provided the OSCAR community with another reason to celebrate. Successfully undertaking a rigorous interview process he has been selected for a 4 month Sports Management Training course by ITK, University of Leipzig, Germany and with the support of the German Embassy will set off in October 2017. Govind puts his success down to Ashok Rathod, who guided him when there was no one else. A respected and admired role model in his community and across India, his ambition is to continue to inspire and teach and above all to make sure young people never give up dreaming.