She is Sangeetha, captain of India's national slum football team and lives on the street. Even in the face of severe adversities, the 18-year-old first year physical education student at Queen Mary's College, Chennai dreams of making her life as well as that of others like her better. For that, the youngster plans to crack the civil service exam and become a district collector.
Sangeetha's 'house' is the on the side of the Pillayar Kovil Street near Chennai Central railway station. It is behind two iron trunks that she spends the night along with her mother and sister.
The street lights are the only illumination for Sangeetha to study at night.
But Sangeetha is not willing to give up. She had once abandoned her studies and started working to help support the family income while studying in class 9. The family had struggled ever since their father abandoned them.
However, life changed for the better when Karunalaya, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), found Sangeetha and supported her. The youngster soon resumed her studies.
Meanwhile, Sangeetha had tried dribbling the football for fun and found that she indeed had talent for the game. Pursuing the newly developed passion, the youngster spent hours in rigorous practice.
Her efforts did pay off, making her the captain of the Indian slum football team. Sangeetha carried the Indian flag at the football world cup championship for slum children held in Russia.
Though India crashed out of the tournament after its second match, it was a good show considering the hurdles the team members had to overcome to reach the international level.
Sangeetha describes the conditions in which she lives. “There is absolutely no safety or security. At night, drunkards try to sleep near us. There were numerous bitter experiences. We have to depend on the public wash rooms for our basic needs as well as to change dress,” she says.
Often, men try to barge into the wash room while women take bath. “Such incidents take place often. But complaining never helps. If that is done, there will be attempts to isolate us. Self-protection is the only thing we can do,” explains Sangeetha.
“But all such difficulties will not crush us,” she adds quickly, with a smile.
Sangeetha teaches us that there is no use in getting dejected over adverse circumstances. When a path before us gets blocked, we ourselves should seek out a hundred other routes, she demonstrates.
The NGO Karunalaya has provided big support for Sangeetha. It helps her in studies as well as football training. As Sangeetha's teammates are all orphans, the NGO has given them shelter. Sangeetha, meanwhile, lives with her dear ones- her mother and sister.
Sangeetha explains why she wants to become a district collector. “My dream is to start a football club that gives free training to street kids. If I try to turn my dream into a reality now, nobody will take notice. But as a collector, I will have power and everyone will listen to me,” she says.
“I want to study well, become a collector and give a better life to people living on the street,” adds the confident youngster with determination.
Slum Soccer is an organisation that uses football to empower the underprivileged, to represent Team India.