Village Girls in India Discover Field-Hockey Kicks

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An out-of-the way village in India has attracted an after-school field-hockey program run by a female player from Germany. At first the parents thought it was just for boys. But after a while that changed.

JAIPUR, India (WOMENSENEWS)--It's 5 p.m. and the girls have started gathering outside the dilapidated fort, a landmark in the sleepy Rajasthani village of Garh Himmat Singh, about 80 miles from the state capital of Jaipur.

Field hockey practice will start in a few minutes. Every evening, a group of 15-20 youngsters--girls on same days, boys on others--scramble to get hold of a hockey stick and start warming up before their daily match.

The girls and boys play on alternate days. But even when it's the girls' day, the boys hover around to get some field time after the game.

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Sanika Khandelwal, 11, has barely learnt to control the ball properly, but when her coach, German Antje Weidemann, shouts "shoot," she hits it past the goalkeeper, Sangram Singh.

"It's a goal," says Weidemann, slapping the palm of the jubilant Sanika.

The 6-year-old goalkeeper--the group's youngest member--hits the goalpost with her stick in frustration. "Not again!"

Girls on a sports field would have been unthinkable in this village not so long ago. But times are changing in Garh Himmat Singh, thanks to a project initiated by Andrea Thumshirn, 36, a first-league hockey player from Germany.

Thumshirn, who owns a Berlin travel agency that specializes in Southeast Asia,

has been playing hockey since she was 6. She first came to India in 1998 and instantly "fell in love with the people."

On one of her first trips her Jaipur-based Indian business partner, Dilip Singh Chauhan, took her to Garh Himmat Singh, a farming village of around 4,000 people that is typical in many ways. It has five schools, no doctor and water that flows at the mercy of erratic electricity generators.

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