JoLi Academy India 2012: Part I

The three talented Yuwa players show off their new warm-ups that they will wear at their National Team camp

I have some down time in the village before the big match between the AIFF and Yuwa and thought that I should attempt to give you all an update of what we are experiencing here in Jharkhand.  It is hard to put into words all that transpired both on and off the field.  Lianne and I are living the experience fully.  The good, the bad, and everything in between.
Everyday brings new challenges and learning situations.  I don’t think you can fully understand what you are walking into until you are knocking on the front door and sleeping in their beds.  There are so many things that we have encountered that we never even imagined.  Life here is so simple yet we realize how complex it can become.
The village is remote.  All players do not have electricity, running water, toilets, proper amounts of food yet they are the happiest and kindest children I have ever met.  The sense of community is so strong that it seems as if they lack nothing.  There are incredible amounts of pollution, waste, and trash yet there is still so much beauty.
For instance, the girls and I walked to the local river today and witnessed all the villagers washing their blankets, clothes, bodies, and dishes.  This is the same water where they go to the bathroom next to (no toilets) and the same water where all the animal feces runs into.  Behind this river are beautiful green fields, trees with small fruits that the girls knock off the trees and eat (I have them in my pocket now).  There was also an amazing old outdoor music theater.  The girls often walk barefoot through the fields, over the sticks, gravel, rocks, through the water.  I have felt many of their feet and it is as if they have become their “shoes”.
We even got the chance to take the girls to the zoo. Yes, the zoo and I can honestly say, it was the coolest zoo we have ever been to.  You actually felt the animals were in their natural environment…lions, leopards, crocodiles, foxes, elephants (this was sad because they were chained up and ordered to do tricks), sloth bears, deer, wild cats, and monkeys. The zoo also boasted gorgeous vegetation and a paddle boat lake that surprisingly wouldn’t allow 5 to a paddle boat when we fully well-known they stuff about 30 people into a taxi rickshaw.
These excursions were unique but everyday is a challenge, they are scared to go to school (the teachers, when they show up, do not treat them well and often teach them nothing) and have much work to do at home, so soccer is their true play.  They NEVER get tired.  Or at least they will never admit it to us.  They soak up everything we throw at them with an innocent exuberance.  Often they come to practice having only eaten one meal and never have water with them.  Yet, never one complaint.
It’s amazing to witness the interaction between them all and their interaction with us.  They follow us everywhere, want to do everything for us, and are so incredibly helpful.  They call us both “Maam” and they often get our names mixed up but we don’t care one bit.  They are such a refreshing change to the Western fixation on all things electronic.  These kids make up their own games, put on plays, converse, go for walks (1 hr to school for many of them), and just truly enjoy life.
Do not get me wrong, life here is not easy.  Since being here we have escorted/taken part in three situations where we had to 1. convince the parents of one of his players not to marry her off at 13 yrs old and 2. inquire why another player has not attended school for 3 months (Franz keeps track of all attendance both at practice and school through team-elected captains).  For the girl who hadn’t attended school, it was not because she didn’t want to go but because her father, since taking out a loan to buy an auto rickshaw, could not afford her school expenses (essentially $2.00 a month). 3. Escort the girls to school out of fear their teachers may beat them for being tardy to class (this does happen, unfortunately).
Franzs’ positive presence in this village is palpable.  He has given these girls opportunities they could never imagine.  He has nurtured them, educated them (some speak decent English), cared for them in ways that no one ever could.  He has truly created a family that is incredibly strong.  Now, we have the pleasure of becoming a part of it all.
Our impact has already been felt.  Considering JoLi Academy arranged to have the Women’s National Team attend this project they are finally in contact with Yuwa.  India is incredibly corrupt and so no  matter how great some of these Yuwa players are, they often get overlooked for the National Team selections.  Franz has had horrible experience after horrible experience and is now extremely wary.  The way it works, the state of Jharkhand chooses the players to attend the camps for India but they have no interest in choosing the best players. The politics are ridiculous. However, since the AIFF has been here to observe some of his players they have taken the necessary steps to go against protocol and over the state to send THREE Yuwa players to their u-13 WNT camp.
Now, this may not seem that profound but we are talking about girls so far from the cities that they have never been further than 5 miles from their village.  Now they will travel across the country to attend this camp.  Franz has purchased their train tickets, bought them new warm up suits, and even girly lotions, accessories for them to feel comfortable.  He will escort them to this event to make sure they are not left on the train tracks (this has happened before).
We are a part of something amazingly special.  We have created something amazingly special.  It is not until we sit back and realize what we have accomplish that we feel the power of it all.  We are training on a dirt field, with 45 kids (boys, girls, ages 12-32, from all walks of life) and have managed to challenge them all without losing any in the process.  A 32-year-old National Team player  from the city is high-fiving a 12-year-old Jharkhand villager when they pull off some great move and score a goal.
This is what has made this trip all worth it and The relationships we have built here will be hard to leave.  Yes, it is not ideal to wake up at 5am to get ready to train at 6am before the sun has risen and before the girls go to school.  It is  hard to sleep on a board with a thin mattress over top while your room is 40 degrees and you wake up shivering.  It is not easy to lose power in the house all the time, never have a decent warm shower, go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, constantly eat curried dishes, smell the wonderful stench of the mixture of animal poop, trash, hay, fumes, carbon, and burning waste, witness the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the hardship, the disease, and everything that comes with it.  It is for sure interesting to see how the modern conveniences are dealt with here.  Brushing teeth with sticks, going to the river to wash, drying manure on walls to cook with, putting hay down to sleep on, and eating with your hands.  It is comical to think we are sleeping 10 in this house (7 in one room – basically a room full of mattresses), 16 girls across the yard in the small garage (they sleep on hay covered by a blanket), and 4 fathers in the room next to them (same sleeping material) – that makes 30 people sharing 2 bathrooms and one kitchen. Good luck plumbing.
All day long we pass dogs, cows, goats, pigs…there is so much going on. The roads are chaotic to put it nicely.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to lane division and add on top of this cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, bikes, crossing pedestrians, dogs, and of course, cows. Meanwhile, there are only full pass zones no matter how dangerous or where on the road.  To say it makes for a frightening driving experience would be an understatement.  The noises, sights, and smells are indescribable and at times traumatizing (hospital linens washed in the DIRTIEST of lakes and then spread on the trash filled hills to dry).  We pass this every day of the way to eat at the hospital cafeteria – yum!
The greatest part is that we have been through so much and we are awake, alive, healthy, and happy to share our story.  We have touched the lives of these people in such a deep way that we are already talking about our return trip.  I am personally considering sponsoring some of these kids to help them reach heights they never dreamed of.
We have, through the sport we love and through the sport that has shaped us as human beings, given happiness to girls that need it the most.  Twice a day for the past week we have walked to training by dirt road with 60 some people right next to us.  We laugh, we smile, we navigate through the darkness to reach a field that has provided so many memories.  We gather around the water hole, strap on our shoes, and run until the sun rises in the distance.
We have struggled at times.  We have both almost reached breaking points only to be brought back by the amazing children around us.  How can we complain about no hot water, freezing  nights, nausea, when we are given the chance to reach our potential each and every day of our lives?  Simply said, we cannot and so we carry on.  We realize this is all part of the experience and will make the documentary that we are filming that much more powerful.
It is moments like today, as I sit in the warm sun teaching the girls english and they teaching me Hindi, that I feel the uniqueness of what we have managed to find.  The remotest of villages in the most lawless state in India…….yet if you look a bit closer you see the beauty behind their simplicity.  There are no computers, no cell phones, no ipads, no cameras – only the relationships you build and the lives you create with those people.
Lianne and I are so lucky to have come here.  I now know we can accomplish anything.  If we can make it all the way to Jharkhand and put on an academy under these circumstances than we can go anywhere in this world and we intend to do so.  Our lives will never be the same. JoLi Academy will never be the same and we now have requests to put on Academies in Nepal and South Africa.
Troy Polamalu even mentioned our academy on his twitter and Facebook account – I knew my Dad would appreciate that one.  If that ain’t makin it than I don’t know what is. We feel blessed to have had this opportunity and we thank you all for the undying support to make it happen.
We are taking very good care of one another –  keeping spirits up when all you want to do is cry….sigh
We miss all of our friends and family spread across the globe. We are so excited to see my family in Goa.  Trust me, we will need an intense pampering session after this one.
Sending our love from Jharkhand in the Hutup village.

About joannalohman

Professional Soccer Player for the Philadelphia Independence and Vice President of Tenant Consulting, LLC, a commercial real estate firm in Washington, DC. I believe that curiosity is the highest form of insubordination so I am always exploring and seeking out ways to learn. I am a multi-dimensional reader, dancer, socializer, leader, and motivator. I have traveled around the world for both soccer and recreation experiencing different cultures by submerging myself in the local community. I am currently living in West Chester, PA in a one bedroom, kick butt apartment. At 28 years old, it is my first time living in my own space and I am thoroughly enjoying every second of it. A mathematics nut, spreadsheets turn me on and I find equations stimulating. Business is my post career destination and I hope to one day change the world....however that may be.
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