“Volunteering has not only broadened my mind but made me more confident.” by Tom Relf
I first met Manthan Soni, a 13-year-old OSCAR beneficiary from Vitthal Wadi, at the training ground locally known as ‘Back Garden’ on one of my first days in Mumbai. His incredible smile and enthusiasm for the game of football instantly caught my attention. That first day I asked him some basic questions and was surprised at how good his English was at such a young age. We then both joined in with the rest of the training session; despite Manthan being one of the smallest players in his team physically but his heart and skill was the biggest by far. 
Manthan has been a part of OSCAR for the last 3 years and he told me that not only has OSCAR helped him with his education and football but it has taught him to be smart, stay out of trouble and help others around his community. One of his coaches said “when he first joined OSCAR he was very shy and didn’t talk; now he is confident, respectful to others and extremely motivated.” Manthan’s passion for football is infectious and he makes the most of the OSCAR training sessions as he only has 2 hours a week. However every spare minute he has when he is not studying is spent practicing with his friends; I personally found his dedication to the game and his studies very inspirational.
 
Manthan lives in a community within Vitthal Wadi with his parents and 3 other family members. His father Vijay Soni works for Xerox as a photocopier and his Mother Jyoti Soni is a house wife. He initially told me that he had brothers in OSCAR and he explained how we played in the community with his ‘brothers’. But I later found that he was an only child. I then was told that it is very common in India and especially in the communities for children to refer to close friends as brothers or cousins. It all made sense once I had been told this!
When we visited his community it was Manthan’s 13th Birthday. We were greeted by his friends and family and we were incredibly spoilt in their generosity and welcoming spirit. We were offered water, Chai tea and homemade cake. We were taken into Manthan’s bedroom to talk for a while about OSCAR and his way of life and what his ambitions are for the future. He told me that his dream was to be a professional football player when he grew up. However he also said that his priority at the moment is to first succeed in school in order to get a good job to help his family move out of the communities. His mother, Jyoti, told me that “Because he is a part of OSCAR it is good for our family and our futures.” I found that that shows how amazing and how much the work that the OSCAR Foundation does means to the Beneficiaries and their families. The kindness of the staff at OSCAR and everyone within the community and the common goal they all share is something very special and I am very grateful and consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to experience the work they do first hand. It has not only broadened my mind but made me more confident and I hope I can incorporate the values they have taught me into my daily life.  
Tom and the OSCAR volunteers in the community

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