Akhilesh was once wanted by police. There were 45 cases registered against him. Thanks to football, today he is a changed person. Akhilesh is training kids in schools for underprivileged through ‘Bridges Of Sports‘ foundation.
It is necessary to understand that sports and education cannot be looked upon as two choices rather they need to accepted into school structure as a single entity. India passed the right to free and compulsory education act for the age group of 6 -14 years in 2009. Since then the government has been pushing hard to get as many students and importantly retain them up to age 14 to complete secondary education.
Akhilesh is based in Nagpur, he led the Indian team in the Homeless World Cup held in Brazil in 2010. Rewind a few years, Akhilesh was completely uninterested in studies and dropped out of school when he was in 6th standard. This trend can be seen across India, though the percentage of out of school children has reduced as seen from the data of District information system for education. India still has 42 million kids out of upper secondary school. More than 90% of kids enrol into primary schooling but more than 40% drop out before moving to secondary schooling.
Akhilesh would rather be involved in antisocial elements, alcohol addiction and other darker elements of the society. The only thing he would enjoy was football, watching others play he too would start playing with mug, bottles or whatever he could find to kick around. He met professor Vijay Bharse at a college ground, where he usually spent time with his friends smoking. Soon professor got these children involved and conducted a football tournament named, Jhopadpati tournament with just 2 teams.
Today, this tournament has become a nationwide movement, where children from underprivileged background get to showcase their football skills and is stepping stone to be part of the homeless world cup, conducted under FIFA.
Akhilesh started attending the training regularly and played at district and nationals before getting selected to captain India in 2010 at Brazil. During his time their, he was asked by the then Manchester United coach to join coaching once Akhilesh returned to India – but Akhilesh was reluctant to stop playing. Soon after returning, at 30 and dwindling opportunities he decided to turn to his sir to learn coaching. But his sir asked him to first learn English before he can think of becoming a coach. As Akhilesh had left his schooling, he took separate English classes and after 3 years of coach training, Akhilesh finally became a full-time football coach.
His achievement were then documented by BBC, Outlook and finally, he appeared at Satyamev Jayate in 2014.
By then, Akhilesh had a son and he was determined to make sure that his son completed his schooling. Not just his son, but Akhilesh makes sure to monitor all his student’s attendance in school and constantly interacts with their teachers to track their progress in school. This is his unique coaching style, where every morning after taking football classes he visits the school of his students and keeps continuous track. A study by Dasra, a non-profit based in Mumbai has researched a program “Full-Time Education” in Brazil who tried to increase attendance in school by providing extracurricular activities based on sports. More than 8000 students who had dropped out, were back into school, with improving attendance rates.
The Azim Premji Foundation’s study to understand drop out rates found that higher number of boys were 'not interested’, whereas in the case of girls the lack of interest depended on parents and economic conditions. Clearly, there has been a lot of focus on enrolment of kids into school but a lot more needs to be done to retain them back in schools. Lack of interest to schooling needs to be reduced by providing better interventions to make schools attractive. This is exactly what Akhilesh provides through his football classes. Another reason found by Bridges of Sports for dropouts is lack of sector-specific skill development in schools, which could make them employable post their secondary education. Akhilesh gained exactly this skill during his formative years, which enabled him to quit is darker side and become a football coach inspiring the next generation.
Unfortunately, when Akhilesh’s mother was hospitalised with Kidney failure, he did not get any financial support during the most difficult time of his life. He later continued to coach children for free in three of the local schools as he believed, this can at least avoid few more children from falling trap to darker elements of the society. With no certain future for himself, he was not sure how long he can continue coaching for free. Even after all his achievements, he was struggling to get employment to sustain his family and his child’s schooling. After meeting Akhilesh, Bridges of Sports realised he completely fitted the model of our work with intervention in schools through sports. Akhilesh will now be leading Bridges of Sport’s football operations of Nagpur. We believe it is time to Give Wings to aspirations of people like Akhilesh and enable them to take charge to shape the future of Indian Sports.
Bridges of Sports Foundation is currently incubated at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and supported by Micheal and Susan Dell Foundation.
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