Kumar Rathod, 26, the executive assistant of the OSCAR football programme shares his story of remarkable progress, growth and development in the face of aversity.
The once small boy from the slum community now has a daily outreach to hundreds of children, empowering and inspiring them to take action to be better educated, socially responsible citizens and mobilise their community for positive social change.
It was becoming an ever-common occurrence for young Kumar, to cry from the physical pain induced by work he was being forced to complete at Sassoon Dock in the early hours of the morning. Both Kumar’s father and mother worked at the dock, along with many of their neighbours. Kumar recalls how much he hated working at the dock, but was pressured by his family to work and contribute to the ever-increasing cost of living in a growing city like Mumbai.
15 year old Kumar knew this wasn’t the life he wanted for himself nor his family, he knew the value of education and the possibilities it provided to elevate him, his family and community out of poverty. He struggled to convince his parents that the small financial reward of an unskilled job such as offloading fishing boats was a short-term solution to their money problems. Everything changed for Kumar when he met Ashok.
Aged just 18, Ashok was taking matters of the stagnant social
progression in the slums into his own hands. Kumar knew of Ashoks work
and with a guilty conscience spent most of his time running in the
opposite direction when he spotted him in the thin noodle junction alley
ways of his neighborhood. Kumar describes his younger self as “naughty,
a liar, cheater and thief”. He would often steal from his parents and
would gamble precious money playing card games on the streets after
school. Kumar desperately needed direction and guidance, he was quickly
falling in with the wrong crowd.
Kumar’s younger years were spent in Karnataka, helping out on his family’s farm and not enrolled in any form of education until he was 7. Following the news that his father had been involved in a fishing accident he and his siblings were sent on the train to Mumbai. He settled in the Ambedkar Nagar community and formed a joint-family with his uncle, all 11 members living at one address. Kumar recalls the single room his family lived in being so crowded at night that for 8 years he used to clamber up onto the roof to sleep. In monsoon season he would crawl under the tarpaulin for shelter from the rain.
Kumar met Ashok in 2006 when he was in the 8th standard. Ashok called a meeting for the young boys in the community, who like Kumar were not fulfilling their potential, they would often skip school due to the financial pressures placed on their families and work. Kumar listed off the plethora job roles he had completed by the age of just 15. He had sold Chai working 8 hours a day, making 800 rupees a month, cleaned houses, woke up at 4am to file paper work in a bank before school, collected steel cans from the dump behind his slum for 1 rupee per item. Kumar had begun working more than he was studying. His meeting with Ashok could not have come at a better time.
Kumar became part of the first OSCAR team in 2006. After playing in the Bandra league and showing exceptional progress, Ashok selected him to attend a young leader training programme in Goa run by Generation For Peace. The same year Kumar quit OSCAR due to financial family pressures. Kumar spent his spare time working to provide for his family. He longed to play football with his team and was filled with jealousy when they would return from matches and training sessions without him in tow. His friends at OSCAR were constantly telling him how much they missed him and needed him, he was an asset to their team. Ashok and Suraj too had lengthy discussions with him about his return to OSCAR. After 2 years he finally plucked up the courage and re-joined OSCAR as an assistant young leader.
In 2014 Kumar became the 4th paid OSCAR employee and his parents
finally bought into the OSCAR movement. They saw first-hand how football
had provided their son with the direction, discipline and an
opportunity a young boy from the community would not have had otherwise.
Soon Kumar found that in full circle fashion, children began running
away from him in the street when they knew they had been up to no good.
He had gained the respect of his community, the young children knew
about the OSCAR movement and they looked up to him as a positive,
inspirational role model.
In 2017 Kumar was selected to attend the Donostia-San Sabastian Football tournament in Spain as the OSCAR team coach. It was his first-time leaving India. His dream was always to travel. Kumar feels incredibly lucky to have found a family in OSCAR, without them, especially Ashok and Suraj his life would not be what it is today. He has; been abroad, an education, a career and a job he loves doing.
Life is not easy for children growing up in the slum community. Now more
than ever their futures are uncertain. Their livelihoods are at risk,
their city of Mumbai is expanding and developing at an exponential rate.
Kumar’s story is just one of many, OSCAR now has an outreach to over
3000 young people, who are in education, playing football and bettering
themselves for their community. Kumar is proud and grateful to have had
such an upbringing, he has come out on top and is a true inspiration for
young and old alike. Kumar hopes that unfulfilled potential, lack of
education, poverty and ignorance will one day be a thing of the past in
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