By Goal Five
Dharamsala, India - Nestled in the shadows of the Indian Himalayas, a soccer field seems out of place. More odd it would seem is the fact that the field is being played on by a group of exiled Tibetan women. Running, passing, dribbling and screaming with laughter, it’s clear that they’re having the time of their life. And it’s all because of one passionate footballer’s visit to the region.
“During my first visit to Dharamsala, I became aware of and concerned about the status of exiled Tibetan women, and had the idea to start a girls program to address the social issues using soccer,” said Cassie Childers, Executive Director of Tibet Women’s Soccer.
Dharamsala is located on the edge of the Himalayas in the northern part of India. As home to the Dalai Lama’s residence, the area draws many followers of Buddhism and has a large population of Tibetan refugees, forced into exile from China’s occupation of Tibet.
“I’d heard that Dharamsala was a good place to go take courses on Buddhism. That's how I first ended up there. I’d take frequent trips between my job as a teacher and soccer coach in the U.S., and Dharmsala. But it was during the 2010 World Cup that I saw how much Tibetan males loved soccer and started inquiring, and learned that Tibetan females don't play and didn't have a national team where the men did.”
Childers fell in love with soccer in her early childhood and continued playing competitively through her adolescent years. She made the hard decision after a negative coaching experience in high school to discontinue her career as she ventured off to college. Childers’ unfortunate experience left her thinking that she “would never touch a ball again,” yet, during her senior year in college she returned to her hometown in New Jersey and fell in love with the game like she had as a little girl, but this time as the coach of her old high school team for a season.
The 2010 World Cup experience proved to be an epiphany for Childers. “I’d always hoped I would find a way to give back to the community that has given so much to here. To be able to combine my love of soccer and my love of this community, is a dream come true.”
“I’ve always loved soccer and teaching the game, but my deeper passion is working with young women on different issues surrounding empowerment. At some point, I made the connection between the two; how soccer can be used as a tool for much deeper growth...and I just ran with it.”
This realization led to a life calling. After tying up some loose ends in the U.S,, Childers returned to the area and made a formal proposal to the Tibetan National Sports Association. They were receptive to a limited degree. “Basically they said, yes, come and start a program, but we will give you no funding.”
In an unrelenting pursuit to get these women a program they deserved, she set up a fundraising campaign in her hometown, enough to serve roughly 30 girls from boarding schools across Tibet.
“I began by contacting seven Tibetan schools. Almost all Tibetan children live at boarding school. I told each school to send me three girls who wanted to play soccer. I had a one month camp during their school holidays with 27 girls who had never touched a ball.”
Childers understands that soccer has the ability to provide girls and women the opportunity to become independent and confident, and she was unwilling to back down without giving these women that freedom. The first camp back in 2011, “was all about getting them to love the game. Now it's become a competitive team.”
In 2015, the Tibet Women’s Soccer program “officially” became an independent association. The transition to a non-governmental organization helped the program move forward more quickly and at the pace Childers and the group of players desired. What started in 2011 with 27 players now counts for approximately 3,000 Tibetan women playing soccer at a competitive level. She proudly shared that, “Our NGO is driven by the players. Five of them are board members.”
Childers’ hope for the future of women’s soccer, said pridefully and eloquently, “I want any girl, of any background and any location, to have access to soccer if she so wishes.”
Cassie Childers conceived a program that has created a football program for Tibetan young women to express themselves, to socialize with each other, and a space that inspires self-confidence.
Comments will be approved before showing up.