a female goalkeeper reaching for the ball

Mrida: a tribal NGO training India’s next generation of footballers

SPORTS has the power to transform individuals and communities. From football legend Pelé giving a voice to the poor and downtrodden in Brazil to countless footballers from disadvantaged backgrounds proving that their sport can uplift entire communities, football has long been a source of hope and inspiration for children and adults alike. Mrida Education and Welfare Society is a tribal NGO in India that works with tribal communities to alleviate poverty and transform the lives of tribal children through initiatives such as education, nutrition – and sports.

Mrida Education and Welfare Society and Simply Sports Foundation are focused on investing in the future of Indian football by training tribal students and transforming the lives of entire communities. Digvijay Singh is the co-founder of Mrida Education and Welfare Society and he shares that “if we are to play in a football World Cup we need to invest in players coming from the grassroots”. Since 2016, Mrida Education and Welfare Society as a tribal NGO has been able to develop top-notch footballing talent from tribal communities and these footballers have gone on to achieve well at the State and National levels. 

India as a footballing nation

Digvijay Singh of the tribal NGO shares the insight that “India was known as the Brazil of Asia in the 60s and 70s” but that poverty has reduced people’s abilities to a great extent. “The war that we are facing, our internal war is against poverty. Poverty is not just about the lack of food, clothes or housing. There is a lack of pride we face and I feel that football can give us that. The founders of Mrida Education and Welfare Society share that investing in football can uplift these marginalized communities and that giving them a chance can help make the dreams of so many tribal youngsters a reality. 

He shares the story of a tribal youngster named Pramod, whose friends migrated out of their small village in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh and relocated to urban areas to work as daily-wage laborers. Digvijay explains that this is common for most young men in the area. But Pramod, on the other hand, because he received football training from Mrida Education and Welfare Society, he got the opportunity to be the captain of the Under-17 football team of one of India’s most celebrated football clubs named Mohun Bagan.

a boy playing football

Mrida’s aim to empower tribal youngsters

Mrida Education and Welfare Society is a tribal NGO that is working to uplift and empower tribal communities and has identified the transformative power that football has in achieving this noble objective. But the tribal NGO needs support to afford the resources and training to equip and empower these tribal young girls and boys to achieve their dreams and change their futures through football. Digvijay shares that “as far as infrastructure is concerned, the football fields in these areas are farmlands. On grounds like these, footballs don’t last. We need 30 to 40 footballs each month. You will find many children here who have torn boots, which we struggle to replace.” 

But despite these challenges, the girls and boys trained by Mrida Education and Welfare Society and Simply Sports Foundation have gone on to accomplish great feats. “Our girls are State champions and have played in the Nationals. From the boys, one of our players recently played for Mohun Bagan Under-17. So, if we get the facilities and infrastructure that a proper club has, it will not take us much time to scale our impact to 10 to 20 times more.” To support Mrida Education and Welfare Society, you can donate here.

footballers with their coach

Improving health 

“When children come to us for the first time, at least 80 to 90 percent of the children are anemic and that too in severe and advanced stages of the condition. Furthermore, they are malnourished, have stunted growth and are underweight” explains Digvijay. But even though the children have poverty, ill health and other disadvantages to contend with, they are still proving themselves to be among the best in India, because of the training they receive from Mrida Education and Welfare Society and Simply Sports Foundation. 

But in addition to the training, Mrida Education and Welfare Society as a tribal NGO gives youngsters from tribal communities something far more valuable – hope and confidence. When these youngsters realize that there are people across the nation who believe in them and want to see them succeed, it gives them the boost to achieve their very best and helps them become empowered to take care of their families and the entire community.

children playing football

Who are the young people that Mrida helps?

Mrida Education and Welfare Society and Simply Sports Foundation reaches out to teenagers and young adults from impoverished tribal families in and around the rural region with a focus on education and skill-building. The tribal NGO plans interventions that aim to build their skills with an industry focus that will enable children and youth from rural areas to become accomplished professionals and generate livelihood opportunities in rural regions. What this means for both the youngsters and the nation as a whole is that India’s position as a footballing nation will be both strengthened while empowering marginalized young people.  

Priya, the co-founder of Mrida Education and Welfare Society shares that without the football training, the youngsters would never have had the opportunity to realize their talent and potential. Without the opportunities provided by the tribal NGO, the youngsters would have had to become daily wage laborers, just like the others in the area. Priya and the team from the tribal NGO dream about transforming the lives of the tribal youngsters through football. Priya and the Mrida Education and Welfare Society team have taken football to over 100 villages giving the children a way out of poverty.

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Speaking about the girls, Priya shares that “many of these girls today are also playing for the top clubs in the country like Gokulam FC. We are trying to change the stories and the narratives of the women of the region, of the children of the region. These kinds of facilities like good infrastructure, nutrition, good coaches, all of these need to be at the grassroots. The current infrastructure that we are in is all rented, including our school building, and the hostel building, the ground that we practice on is actually an agricultural field that we practice on, all of it is rented. We need to arrange for the rent every month. Please be a part of this journey to build strong female Indian football players who can compete on the world stage. Please help us and support us in transforming Indian football.”

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