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Children come as raw diamonds to us and we can mold them- Andrea Thumshirn

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Hockey Village is name of the project and Andrea Thumshirn is name of the lady who’s changing the lives of under-privileged kids through this project. The project which focuses on bringing education and Hockey together for these kids has been already into two locations, one at Jatwara and the other at Bhusawal where children learn to play hockey and get educated as the beneficiaries of this project. She spoke with us about the project and hurdles her team is facing with.

Hockey Village- How and why?Key motivation and vision…

It was not planned – it all happened by coincidence. I was always a very impulsive person and I never thought much about what would/could happen if… The German gene of safety and security is missing in my gene pool somehow. I was running a travel agency back in Germany as I converted my passion for traveling into my profession. I was specialized in very individual trips to India, Indonesia  and the Philippines and I was always looking for new places for my clients.

One day it happened that I came to that little village Garh Himmat Singh and I got mesmerized by it’s untouched and traditional, almost conservative atmosphere.

I kept on coming to that village 2-3 times as me and my business partner decided to include this village for a lunch break for our clients and we started teaching children English in the afternoons so that they could show their village to our clients. At a point of time I brought some hockey sticks and that is how the whole story started.

Jatwara- progress made at the place…

Well when we had to shift from Garh Himmat Singh in 2014, we almost had to start from zero again. I managed to shift almost my whole boys team, but from my girls, only 4 made it to the new place in Jatwara. We started teaching and coaching new children in Jatwara and we managed to buy our own land so that we hopefully can start laying out our second hand astro turf this autumn.

We restarted our English Medium School and at the moment we have 37 students which are in LKG, UKG and class 1-3. In July we will start class 4 and I hope we get again some more children. Parents are still insecure if this is the right way to teach their children. We have a lot of colorful learning games and we teach in small groups without beating the students. Parents come with their children and advise us to beat them to improve their learning. As we of course refuse to do so, we already lost quite a number of children. But those who are still with us are developing brilliantly.

The combination of sports and education makes definitely sense even if this can be only proved once the kids write a valuable exam and that will still take some years.

I am involving myself in the management of the Hindi Medium School as well, where we also sponsor some children and involve ourselves in computer classes, teacher coaching, activities and of course Hockey. 5 of our Hockey Children who graduated from school this year had very good results (2 of them are the school topper) and we support them in finding the right job or university now. 2 boys started working as adventure coaches in Kolad, south of Mumbai and Brijesh is at the moment in Germany and does an internship at Thyssen Krupp. He is motivated to study in Germany.

Overall Project snippet, resources & support and financials…

We are growing fast but continuously. Looking back I think we achieved already a lot, looking at my day to day work I feel we are standing on a chewing gum. It is very difficult to work in rural area with all that bureaucracy happening here. It hampers a lot of innovation and growth. Plus there is still a lot of greed and jealousy among the villagers and the day to day rumors is something we have to deal with.

Donations are still 90% from Germany and I wish that India would also contribute as it is for their country people…

Most of our students have scholarship sponsors from Germany as their families would not be able to pay the school fees. A special focus is there on the girls.

Hurdles, current goals and challenges…

Well I feel I am on a permanent hurdle run since I started the project. Some hurdles are easy to overcome and some need an extreme amount of energy. But I learned a lot since I live in India and I can make my way through. As I already said the jealousy of the people is something which really hurts at times. On the other side I learned to understand that this is due to their illiteracy in the first place and also due to their mentality. They would do the same with their own neighbor if he would grow and they won’t. It is just sad to witness that as it distracts all the growth that could happen there. People still see it as their destiny to be poor and  so nobody will stand up and do something or even think out of the box or doubt the neighbors rumors. It sometimes makes me stand helpless. The children are quite exposed as they are with us but the parents still have their stone age thinking and that is hard to digest and hard to change. It will take another generation…

But I also understand that I am a foreigner in India and I have to adjust to circumstances and to the culture. Being a foreigner has its advantages and disadvantages.

Another struggle is the cooperation with the Rajasthan Hockey Association. They are not willing to accept us and as a result our children cannot play for the state team. But it is just a question of time until we are big enough and important enough that this fact cannot be ignored any more.

Our goals are first of all the astro-turf this year and we will also include basketball in our sports portfolio as we hired an NBA trained coach from Mumbai who is taking care of that project. We are collecting funds for a new school building and at the same time we are looking for more Indian partners who can cooperate with us.

A grassroots project & difficulties associated…

Everybody told me that this is impossible and that was my catalyst to do it. Still my friends are asking me what the hell I am doing there and under which circumstances I live and they cannot understand why and how. This is actually what drives me – to make the impossible possible. But I do that with respect to the Indian culture.

I live like they live, I eat what they eat and I follow their rituals and festivals even if I don’t follow any religion. I believe that only if I am one of them I can understand their problems and find solutions.

Still people in the village think that I have a money tree somewhere and I will always be the rich white woman (though I lived hand to mouth during the last 3 years as I lost all my money in the old village as my so called Indian brother was cheating with me and with the NGO).

Key learning and social inclusiveness…

It started with a Hockey stick and some English classes and now we involved ourselves in various areas in life. We are providing healthy food for our primary kids as they would not get that at home. We are acting almost as a village doctor as every child in the village would come to us with their injuries as we have loads of disinfection sprays and plaster on stock.

We started a skills training center for girls where they learn tailoring and stitching and can raise some income for their families later.

We try to get a water filter so that the whole village can have clean water as lots of diseases are the result of contaminated water in the village. So it became an overall project and that’s the charm of it. Children come as raw diamonds to us and we can mold them. We also hired teacher, driver and a cook from the village, means we are also creating jobs.

FIH programs which can support the project…

I have heard of a grass root level program and I was contacted by them and an article about the Hockey Village was published, but there was no further follow up from their side.

I need to check if there is something available.

But we are even affiliated with HI and they also have annual funds but nobody could tell me so far what happened to all the forms I filled and why we never received funds… so at times I get tired of running behind each and everybody…

Local government’s and general public participation- Volunteering efforts…

There is zero participation or contribution from the government or public. All my volunteers are from Germany.

School graduates and Hockey players. They invest their own time and money to work with our project for a minimum of 3 month. They pay their own flight, their own transport and they pay for food and accommodation. They are teaching and coaching with me and the local teacher together.

It is a great experience for their life and it of course changes their own perception of life. Some IIT Mumbai graduates are coming up with some fundraising events for us. They appreciate our effort and as they were Hockey players earlier and are now in good jobs, they are taking an initiative to give back, which I really appreciate.

Hockey Rajasthan & Maharashtra-their involvement…

Hockey Rajasthan is counterproductive as I already mentioned – Hockey Maharashtra was not approached yet, but some of our boys were invited by a Mumbai coach this year and they might have got a chance to play for Maharashtra but due to their personal reasons they couldn’t go… maybe next year…

We cannot wait until Rajasthan opens its doors – we have to expose our kids now. And the Maharashtra team would be quality wise anyways better….

Number of kids included and the impacts…

We are having our 37 English medium children who are growing up in the sports and education environment. No results can be shown as of now but we can already see that if children have some activities in between classes, their concentration and understanding gets much better.

In sports we have 5 children going to Germany for the last 3 years now. They are playing Hockey in the German league and they live in German Hockey families. This year first time a girl went for the league.

The children are between 14-16 years of age. We played some All India tournaments but as mentioned no nationals so far due to the difficulties with the association. That’s the sad part of Indian sports – too much politics is involved and nothing is done for the sake of the sports or the athletes…

And yes we had lots of children improve their school results with us. They are more exposed which makes a huge difference. Plus all our Hockey children are speaking English, otherwise how could they survive outside of their village? We have to have intelligent sports people and healthy students. We can only provide opportunities – the children have to decide which way to go. That’s how we raise them.