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OSCAR International volunteer Amirah Miller’s experience with OSCAR Foundation

I am unsure the English language has enough adjectives to adequately describe the truly incredible work the OSCAR foundation tirelessly carries out on a daily basis, empowering and inspiring the youth from the most underprivileged areas in India. It has been a privilege to volunteer with them for the last month and to see first hand the progress being made in these neighbourhoods. I was introduced to the OSCAR foundation in October 2017 when Ashok and the under 14 team came to England for the first UK schools tour.

The friendly smiles, welcoming faces, beautiful colours and children playing made me realise, that actually, these people were in fact so rich.

Since then I have been itching to come out to Mumbai and see where the magic started. I planned as part of my year travelling to spend a month volunteering and teaching in the community. During my first visit to the Ambedkar Nagar slum I was overwhelmed by the altruism and community cohesion in the neighbourhood. With a population of over 60,000 the chaos that surrounds these families is humbling, no running water, communal toilets, no furniture, no showers all luxuries we take for granted at home. From an outsider looking in the concept of a “slum” is associated with a mass of negative connotations but having spent time in the community these negative preconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth about what life is like for these families. The friendly smiles, welcoming faces, beautiful colours and children playing made me realise, that actually, these people were in fact so rich. Materialistic possessions mean nothing, happiness comes from within. I left Ambedkar Nagar that first day with a heart full of optimism. The sense of community, the co-dependence, the altruism, the generosity shown by the families was inspiring. At home in London I don’t know a single one of my neighbours’ names and here I’d been welcomed and greeted by more people in 20 minutes than I have in 20 years of living in my own local area. I was fuelled with inspiration and ready to get involved.

I was astounded when I saw the work being carried out in the office, where the staff work tracking school attendance, planning training sessions, additional academic and computer classes, nutrition distribution and young leader training and development.

The Oscar Foundation is a charity that through football instils the value of education and empowers underprivileged children with life skills to take responsibility for their community’s development. Ashok Rathod and Suraj Patro set up the organisation and now have over 3000 boys and girls who have enrolled and are attending school and playing football. The vision to create a world that enables young people to become role models, to mobilise their communities for positive social change is achieved every time a child chooses education over ignorance and crime. The OSCAR staff do a truly outstanding job of facilitating this. I was astounded when I saw the work being carried out in the office, where the staff work tracking school attendance, planning training sessions, additional academic and computer classes, nutrition distribution and young leader training and development. It was so inspiring to see such collective cohesion from every single member of the OSCAR team who work tirelessly to provide a platform for children in the community to flourish, succeed and achieve a future and quality of life some of them never thought was possible.

During my time as a volunteer, I have attended many football training sessions, which are fantastically planned to include cross-curricular links. For the younger children the training sessions include aspects of English and Maths and for the older age groups sessions will include a socially poignant take-home message such as the danger of drug use.

As a teacher in the UK, this is something my students really take for granted. They have all the provisions there but fail to utilise them and appreciate how fortunate they are.

Every session concludes with a reflection of the practice and this is so elegantly related back to the take-home message of the day. The sessions seamlessly combine football disciplines with life skills to equip the children with the tools to be role model members of their communities and in turn inspire others. The need for such practice has never been more crucial, the future for communities such as Ambedkar Nagar is uncertain. Mumbai is developing as a city at such an astounding rate in order to be able to survive in such an economic
climate this next generation must take action and ensure they are educated. Another thing that truly humbled me was how every child in the OSCAR family valued their education, they knew the power and possibilities it provided them, their family and community. As a teacher in the UK, this is something my students really take for granted. They have all the provisions there but fail to utilise them and appreciate how fortunate they are. I am excited to return to the UK and share my experiences with my pupils, I hope that through such discussions it will open their minds to the wider world and motivate them to take every opportunity offered to them.

It has been such an amazing experience teaching the girls, their thirst for knowledge is what every teacher dreams of finding in a student!

I also spent time tutoring Atisha and Mamta who were part of the 2018 OSCAR UK girls football schools tour. Atisha and Mamta due to family responsibilities such aswater collection are both external college students. This means that they study at home and will enter externally to complete their exams. They are both incredibly intelligent, hardworking, fiery young women. I go into the community most mornings and teach them in the room above the computer centre where there is a whiteboard (absolute luxury) from 10-12 when the water in the community is turned on. The community only has running water for 2 hours every day, so the girls must collect their allocated 6 containers of water from the communal taps for their families to be able to drink, wash, cook and clean. It has been such an amazing experience teaching the girls, their thirst for knowledge is what every teacher dreams of finding in a student! The biggest challenge whilst teaching them was their lack of study skills, they did not know how to learn, they had been copying out pages and pages from their textbooks without possessing any understanding of the content they were covering. The first few sessions we worked on deciphering the meaning of texts, condensing content to make it more manageable, adding context to content and revision strategies. Both girls are so incredibly hard working I know they will achieve everything they set their mind to.

Being exposed to such pure, happy, joyous children with the world at their feet has warmed my heart more than I ever could have imagined.

This last month in Mumbai has been a truly unforgettable experience. Being exposed to such pure, happy, joyous children with the world at their feet has warmed my heart more than I ever could have imagined. Each and every member of the team are crucial to the infrastructure of the foundation and do a truly incredible job of achieving the collective goal of bettering the lives of the families in the community. Together they have made the impossible possible for so many children, making dreams come true on and off the pitch. I am so grateful to have spent this time with the OSCAR family, staff and young leaders. Their work is utterly awe-inspiring all for a movement I am so fully, wholeheartedly enrolled into.