An inter-school championship winning football team in Kailali District in Nepal has learned a few things from football: Girls and boys are equals on and off the field, football is about teamwork, and nutrition and health go hand in hand with the game.

For one player, Sumina, her mother was adamant: football was not for girls, who should be doing household chores instead. But once she changed her mind, the benefits of the game and a recommended diet to keep her children healthy from World Vision were clear for her daughter and many other girls in the community.

Sumina still remembers the first time she scored a goal, kick-starting her confidence and love for football. For a girl of 16 from Kailali, it was a big decision to play the sport.

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As part of the One Goal movement, World Vision asked girls at her school to take part in football, but many assumed they could never play the sport. One of them was Sumina, but today she is one of the best players in her team.

“On the first day, we touched the ball for the first time and learned about football and its rules, how to kick the ball and nutritious diets,” she says. “After that, we were so interested that we started playing football every day for two hours in the evening.”

Once she started playing and taking care of her diet, Sumina felt stronger. “Nowadays, I love to exercise. Before, I used to be lazy. I’ve become more confident and active, which is why I’m fitter and my stamina has increased a lot.”

Sumina dreams of winning many competitions. Her girls’ team recently triumphed in an inter-school football competition, with Sumina netting a handful of goals.

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She and her friends are very conscious of their health these days. “Nowadays, we understand that a proper diet is important for us. It helps a lot in making us fitter and increasing our strength to play games,” says the teenager.

Sumina hopes to play in national-level games. Her favourite player is Ronaldo and she dreams of becoming a teacher someday. She hopes that other girls also get the chance to play football, recalling how her mother was initially against the idea, declaring it was not for girls and she should be helping with household chores instead.

But now her mother has changed her mind, sending her to practice sessions. Even the boys who used to tease her and her friends, claiming girls couldn’t play the game, now ask them to play with them. 

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“There were times when girls used to run away from a football, thinking it would hit and hurt us,” Sumina says, “but now we run after the ball and try to kick it and score a goal every time.”

To promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles among children, older youths and the wider community, One Goal started in January 2015 as a nine-month pilot project in 10 secondary schools in Kailali.

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Reaching nearly 6,000 students, teachers, caregivers and parents, the initiative to get boys and girls in the game and learning about nutrition was very successful in engaging girls, increasing their participation in football from below five per cent of female pupils to two-thirds.

Sitaram Awasthi, the principal of Shree Tribhuwan Higher Secondary School, says that thanks to One Goal, the school now has a girls’ football team: “The children have become more active and it’s great to see their dedication to this game. 

“I’ve noticed that they’re now more active and creative in other activities as well. Parents are also very positive as they feel that boys and girls are involved in something better than just wandering around with friends after school.”

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More than 90% of the school’s students now bring lunch to school as they and their parents understand the importance of diet and how it affects fitness and their future. Previously, hardly anyone would bring lunch to school, eating junk food outside instead.

“When the teachers told them that junk food was not good, they just ignored it,” he continues. “But once their food and diet were connected with the game, they understood and followed the concepts very well, causing a drastic change in them.” 

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May is the month of action for Sport for Development by One Goal and partners. Join us all month long by following our weekly themes, engaging in important conversation online, participating in sport and advocating for sports access, organization of grassroots sporting activities, and child health for all.

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