Today marks International Women’s Day, and this year, the UN Women’s theme for 2021 is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” The theme celebrates the incredible efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At DeafKidz International, we are proud that many of our global projects are led by strong deaf women, who are empowering deaf women and girls to build their skills and reach their potential as well as teaching them how to stay safe from abuse and exploitation.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we want to share an update on our DeafKidz Goal project in India, highlighting one of our incredible female coaches, Sheetal, and to share the impact of the project on the lives of deaf girls including 17 year old Tayyaba, especially in the midst of lockdown.
DeafKidz Goal project in India – Inclusion and equality
Our DeafKidz Goal project, in partnership with Slum Soccer, funded by Comic Relief, responds to the life skill needs of 60 deaf children and young people living in the slums and on the streets of Nagpur, through football coaching. As part of this project, we have trained deaf adults to become football coaches and providing deaf awareness and basic sign language training to Slum Soccer staff. We have delivered football tournaments with both deaf and hearing participants, breaking barriers, and promoting inclusion and equality of deaf girls and boys.
Women in leadership: Sheetal, DeafKidz Goal Coach
Sheetal was diagnosed as profoundly deaf at the age of 3. The lack of awareness and stigma surrounding deafness meant growing up, Sheetal found many of the children in her neighbourhood did not play with her and she was teased because of her disability, and she only left her house when she was with her parents. Despite there being no formal education available for deaf children beyond 10th grade, Sheetal persevered with her studies and graduated in Commerce, as well as training as a beautician to improve her job prospects. She worked as a data entry operator, however faced discrimination from her colleagues taking credit for her work as she was unable to speak. Sheetal highlights this is just one example of the many challenges and discrimination deaf people face in the workplace. Sheetal went on to explore extra-curricular opportunities in stage performing and magic shows, and in 2014 performed in the US and Europe, winning awards in performance and comedy. She is now married with a son in 6th grade.
Sheetal has always felt there were not enough opportunities in deaf schools for students to play sports or learn basic life skills, and was thrilled to discover the DeafKidz Goal project with Slum Soccer last year. At first, she was apprehensive of her ability to play football, let alone coach deaf children, however she credits Slum Soccer coaches for helping her to learn football skills so fast and she now feels empowered and proud to be a coach.
“After attending sessions at Slum Soccer’s headquarters and undergoing trainings from their international trainers and partners, I can feel the remarkable positive change in my capabilities and confidence!
“I take pride in the fact that I am not only instrumental in providing an opportunity for deaf children to play football but also, more importantly, contributing my skills to making the future of children within the deaf community better and brighter.”
Sheetal is an incredible role model and inspiration to the deaf participants she is coaching, leading by example that deaf women and girls should have equal access to life skills and opportunities as their hearing counterparts. Through our DeafKidz Goal project, Sheetal continues to inspire deaf girls to feel empowered, stay safe and reach their potential.
The impact of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic caused disruptions to the DeafKidz Goal project over the last year, with schools closed and activities suspended. Our partner Slum Soccer reports that lockdown in India has had a disproportionately large adverse impact on the mental well-being of deaf children, including heightened sense of isolation, loneliness, and lack of purpose with schools and activities shut down. For many of the deaf participants, the DeafKidz Goal project is their only extra-curricular activity and opportunity to play sports and learn life skills, therefore without this, deaf participants are missing out on activities needed for their wellbeing, education and social development.
It was imperative to address the challenges and constraints brought about by the COVID-19 lockdown in order to safeguard the physical and mental well-being of deaf children and young people. Rather than waiting for schools to reopen to resume engagement with them, Slum Soccer’s DeafKidz Goal Team reached out far and wide into various communities in Nagpur and started to engage deaf children and youth through educational football activities in playgrounds close to the communities while maintaining COVID-19 safety measures. After 3 months of activities, Slum Soccer organized a football tournament on December 2020 where 29 deaf youth and children (age 13-20 years) from 8 communities gathered to play their first ever local football tournament amongst themselves and their hearing peers.
“DeafKidz Goal’s football sessions have filled me with joy and given my life a new meaning and direction” – Tayyaba, age 17
Tayyaba, 17 years old, is one of the deaf football participants benefiting from the DeafKidz Goal project. Tayyaba has 5 sisters and a brother and was born in a patriarchal, conservative community in the fringes of Reshimbagh, Nagpur where the role of women is seen as limited to remaining in the household. Growing up, Tayyaba faced twice the discrimination and stigma attached to being both a girl and profoundly deaf. Tayyaba went to a local deaf school, however as her parents and family members had little knowledge and awareness of sign language, they avoided speaking to her and were unable to communicate with her at home.
When Slum Soccer DeafKidz Goal team began football sessions in Reshimbagh community of Nagpur, the team met Tayyaba, clearly isolated at home, and the impact of lockdown negatively impacting her physical and mental health. Learning football brought Tayyaba out of her shell, and the Slum Soccer coaches were impressed by her enthusiasm, especially being the only girl amongst the participants. However, Tayyaba parent’s believed girls playing sports were considered a taboo, seen as unsafe and a corrupting influence, and stopped her from playing football.
Knowing her eagerness to participate, Slum Soccer coaches met with Tayyaba’s parents over multiple visits, raising awareness of the DeafKidz Goal project, and the work they are doing educating local communities, breaking down communication barriers and tackling the stigma, discrimination and inequalities surrounding deaf children, especially deaf girls.
The DeafKidz Goal team helped changed their attitudes and improve their understanding of deaf awareness and gender inequality, and Tayyaba parents gave their permission for Tayyaba to take part in the project, and soon they become supportive of Tayyaba’s passion for football.
The family were overwhelmed by the transformation in Tayyaba’s personality and confidence. Before she joined DeafKidz Goal, there was little communication with Tayyaba’s and her family, but with support and training from the Slum Soccer’s DeafKidz Goal team of deaf coaches, shadow coaches and Indian Sign Language Interpreters, there has been a paradigm shift in the way the family has started bonding and communicating.
Her father explains:
“Her DeafKidz Goal sessions start at 7 am but every day she wakes me at 6:00 am and asks to drop her to ground… Ever since she has started attending football sessions, she has become more active, engaged and focused in her life… Every day, on her return from the session, she gathers everyone and she shares her learning with us”
Tayyaba was overjoyed to participate in the DeafKidz Goal football tournament in December 2020, especially as this was an opportunity to play against hearing participants. Tayyaba felt this was the first time she was able to integrate with mainstream society and establish her individuality in an equal and inclusive society meant for all irrespective of their ability or gender.
She was also thrilled that many of the hearing participants had learned basic sign language skills through Slum Soccer, to ensure deaf participants were truly included.
“The DeafKidz Goal sessions conducted by Coach Chaya (Slum Soccer’s deaf coach) along with Coach Shiba Markas (Slum Soccer’s Shadow coach fluent in ISL) give me confidence, improves my self-esteem, and revitalizes me…
I get to learn not only football but so many life lessons in Sign Language, something that doesn’t happen even in my school. Due to lockdown I was feeling helpless, lonely, isolated, and ignored.
The uncertainty of future was causing limitless anxiety and mental trauma. The shutting down of schools was a cruel blow to the sole coping mechanism of deaf children as it caused abrupt disruption our learning journey as well as the social interactions of deaf children, especially girls like me who already restricted access to the mainstream society.. I want these sessions to carry on and on”
After obtaining first-hand experience of what she calls “the transformative power of football” she has convinced her deaf friend Lakha to joins the sessions, despite her reservations. Tayyaba enjoys sharing her football skills and is encouraging more deaf youth to join the programme.
When asked about her future plans, Tayyaba first answered ‘Keep playing football.’ She said she wishes to start a deaf girl’s football team and signed that she wants to be a DeafKidz Goal coach.
We are incredibly proud of our DeafKidz Goal program, and the efforts of the Slum Soccer team to adapt and deliver activities during lockdown, which is tackling the isolation deaf children and youth face and has strengthened their mental and physical wellbeing during the uncertainties and challenges of Covid-19.
To support our work this International Women’s Day, please donate to ensure no deaf child is left behind.
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