Ashok Rathod is one of eighteen people from developing countries are in Brighton this week for an intensive course to help them to use football as a way of reaching young people in their communities to stop the spread of HIV.
You only have to be in the company of Ashok for a few minutes at one of his Saturday morning football sessions to realise that he is a hero to the young people in his community of Dr. Babashaeb Ambedkar Nagar colony - one of the toughest slums in Mumbai.
The 22 year-old who lives with all eight other members of his family in a 10 x 12 sq foot house knows all to well about the cycle of poverty which traps young people in his community. He also knows how sport and in particular football can help break that cycle and have a lasting, positive impact on their lives.
Ashok is the driving force and public face of OSCAR (Organisation for Social Change Awareness and Responsibility) a charity he set up with friends in 2006 to offer young people from his and surrounding slums an opportunity to change their lives through sport and education. It was born out of a personal frustration of seeing friends he grew up with drop out of education early and often, as a result, fall into drug and alcohol addiction.
The charity has quickly gained a global reputation for its work and Ashok, who won a prestigious CNN Young Hero award in 2009, can often be found speaking at conferences across the world about OSCAR’s approach and success stories.
For him this approach lies in a fundamental combination of sport and education. As a young boy he was obsessed by sport and sees the positive changes in his life through them. This has had a major influence on the way in which OSCAR works with young people.
He explained: “I became more confident through sports. My communication skills improved and I combined sports and education to spread my message. So, our condition is that if you come to OSCAR then you have to study.”
Participants are required to attend informal educational classes twice a week where they learn math, Hindi, and basic English, all the while learning how to make healthy life decisions. Oscar also engages parents in the program to increase awareness and participation. Because many parents do not believe education should be a priority for their children, Oscar facilitates conversations between parents and educators. During these discussions, educators address the concerns of the parents and explain the importance of schooling.
Having recently participated in some HIV / Aids awareness work with a local NGO, Ashok now wants to develop it as a core part of the OSCAR’s programme for young people in the communities that they work in.
He said: “I have a huge desire to provide HIV/Aids awareness as part of my football coaching and OSCAR’s programme. At the moment I don’t feel that I have the level of awareness or resources needed so as an organisation we are still learning how best we can incorporate this into our work.”
“Coming to Brighton to be part of Football Fighting Back and learn from other people and experts in this area will help us do this. I’m sure it will make a huge difference to way we run our programme in the future.
Hear from more of the participants:
Six of the participants took part in a photo workshop alongside the event, find out more and see the online galleries here.
Read the Guardian's coverage of the event, Using football to kick about a message on AIDS.