Sunday, September 30, 2012

Andria's Drive

Couple months back, out of the blue I was copied into an email thread between Vandana didi and a girl I had never heard of named Andria Caruso. Andria was from the US and had organized a clothing drive in her community for our football program. Details were vague, and since I had no idea who Andria was and wasn't aware of this clothing drive, I was a little skeptical about the whole thing. What could a single random girl with no tangible connection or communication with the soccer program actually do? But I got in touch with Andria in deference to the golden rule of MS: shut up and accept that there are magical connections you can't see or know.

One day Andria mails me with a long list of items she had gathered through her clothing drive. Here's the snippet directly from her email:
WHITE JERSEYS:
33 Medium
11 Large (wears small)
1 X-Large

NAVY JERSEYS:
34 Medium
17 Large
1 X-Large

NAVY SHORTS:
22 Small
29 Medium
19 Large
23 X-Large (You may not want all of these)
Also, there were some shorts where I could not read the size.  There were 25 of these.

NAVY SOCCER SWEATSHIRTS:
unfortunately, these are rather large.
4 Larges
5 X-Larges
1 XX-Large

NAVY TRACK SWEATPANTS:
9 Small
2 Medium
5 Large
3 X-Large

VOLLEYBALL SWEATS:
Pants:
2 Small
7 Medium
3 Large
1 X-Large
Jackets:
2 Medium
1 Large
8 X-Large

NAVY SWEATS (LIGHT MATERIAL)-wear small
Jackets:
4 Small
9 Medium
3 Large
4 X-Large
Pants:
3 Small
5 Medium
6 Large
2 X-Large

SHINY GOLD TANKTOPS: (Cheerleading)
4 Small
7 Medium
5 Large
2 X-Large (I am assuming these are too big)

CHEERLEADING NAVY PANTS:
5 Small
6 Medium
3 Large

WHITE BASKETBALL SHORTS: (RATHER LONG)
4 large

CHEERLEADING ITEMS:
10 longsleeve cheerleading tops (sizes are in numbers)
5 navy cheerleading tank tops
1 white cheerleading tank top
1 small jacket
2 men's tops
6 skirts (sizes are in numbers once again)
1 set of skirt + tank top

CLEATS:  (all in men's sizes)
7 Pairs- sizes: 10.5, 9.5, 4.5 (youth), 4 (youth), 3 (youth), 8.5, 11
INDOOR CLEATS:
3 Pairs- sizes 3.5 (youth), 4 (youth), 11
1 Pair of Tennis Shoes- size 5 (youth)
1 Pair of regular shoes- size 5

SOCCER SOCKS:
40 pairs

RANDOM:
2 DCDS Under Armor T-Shirts

The following are items I collected from family's of my school.  The items are either gently used or new.  The sizes range from young children to teenagers.
10 Jerseys
5 Shinguards
15 Soccer Shorts
15 Soccer T-Shirts
1 Soccer Warm-Up Jacket
1 Pair of Sweatpants (light material)

I also was able to collect some clothes for younger children.
16 T-Shirts
3 Dresses
1 Jersey + Short
9 Shorts
6 Outfits
I was shocked. So much stuff! From one person across the world! The thing that struck me was the combination of the sheer amount of stuff gathered and how unexpected and unlikely it was.

Andria arranged to ship four boxes of the equipment to us last month, mostly soccer jerseys and shorts. The boxes came neatly taped and the clothes carefully folded and organized into ziplock bags. The kids went wild:


We distributed one jersey and shorts combo to each of the players. For some, the fit wasn't great. But everyone was smiles. These kids were previously playing with barely one outfit, and they were running those clothes ragged.

Yesterday I finally got in touch with Andria over the phone to get the full story. Andria is a freshman at the University of Michigan. She is interested in studying medicine to be a doctor so she can work in underprivileged countries, perhaps India or somewhere in Africa. Her sister Julia had volunteered with MS in the slum community last summer and connected her with Vandana didi. Andria asked how she could help. In general she has a passion for service, and was a member of the community service club at her high school. Vandana didi gave some options. Andria liked the soccer program because she plays herself and doing a clothing drive at her school was already on her mind. She knew they had so much gently used equipment just lying around, and there was a group already starting one up, so it was a no-brainer.

The clothing drive lasted 2 weeks. She set up boxes in three local schools, and then stuff started coming in. Focussed on procuring athletic equipment, she talked to her school's sports equipment manager who was more than happy to send over soccer jerseys and shorts that were left over and unused from last season.

When I talked with her, Andria was very humble about what she was doing. I was really inspired that she decided to do something in such a generous and anonymous way. Lot of people do service for the recognition or pat on the back or more. Andria had never met our children, nor even been to India. It was reasonable for her to believe that her contribution would largely go unrecognized in India and back in the US. But she acted anyway out of the kindness of her heart and genuine desire to make the children smile. Consider that mission accomplished. Here's what the kids had to say:


 
Our football program continues to grow stronger week by week. The children are improving so much and their love for the game has gotten deep. Last week we watched a match between Manchester City and Real Madrid. The match didn't have a goal for the majority of the game, but 5 goals came in the last 20 minutes. Whereas even a few months ago the boys would get restless watching such a match, waiting for "action", this time they patiently watched and appreciated the fundamental aspects of the game: spacing, passing, communication. Recently we introduced the concept of triangle passing and its fundamental role in possession play. Now they pointed out triangles forming everywhere on the field. They don't need a goal to enjoy what they are seeing. This is real maturity in how they relate to the game.

We also had some first-time children join practice last week, and the difference between them and our veteran players is stark. They have improved so much, I didn't even realize it till I saw them along side the first-timers. Being reminded of where they started, having no experience whatsoever with the game, learning from scratch, to where they are now, it made me so proud.

All the credit goes to Rahulbhai and the other coaches, who have committed so strongly to these kids and the game. It's a real joy for me to be a part of.

One challenge we continue to face is space for practice. These kids badly need an open grass ground where they can properly play. The Ashramshalla can no longer support their growing skills. They need open space to play the game fully, to shoot, make long passes, and run in open space. Right now the space is literally holding down their wings in developing those aspects of the game that require a full field. Last week Rahulbhai informed me that the Ashram has even sent a written request that the children are not to play beyond the immediate area from Manav Sadhna. So even as our program grows, our space to play shrinks. This is a huge concern.

We are trying to resolve this issue by transporting the kids to Kahaani, but that has grown difficult as we often are unable to get the MS bus to take us. The permanent solution is to set up a ground dedicated to football locally near the ashram. This was the original vision of Football Action, but the timing wasn't right then. Now it is clear that we need a space. This would take significant effort and money, so we will need help.

I was talking to Andria about raising additional funds for some immediate needs for the children: shoes (some are still without, others have worn theirs down to nubs after playing on dirt), balls (we only have a few, and are always in danger of losing them due to poor fields), and medical supplies (these kids play hard, and do get injured). But longer term, we will need the field, and we should look to raise funds for that.

Good news is that these kids are locked in and committed. I love that we don't have to ask them to play; they have developed their own passion for the game, they play because they love it. We have practice every Sunday, but most of the kids play on their own every day. And not just games, they actually run drills we do in Sunday practice. Commitment to improving their skills. At the end of our 5-6 hour Sunday practice they are still begging to play another match. The kids that come from Jamalpur, a slum on the other side of the city, wake up at 4am every Sunday morning to catch a bus by 5 that gets them to Ashram by 6 for 6:30am practice start. It's just incredible dedication.

That's what keeps me and the other coaches going for these kids. Not being able to let them play on a proper pitch regularly is what's really burning me at the moment. Every week that we aren't able to let these kids practice the way the need is a loss in my eyes and heart.

But of course we look to the MS golden rule: shut up, jump, and trust the universe to provide the (soccer) net.

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