Kuleshwor Youth Football

In a quiet neighborhood in the southwest of Kathmandu, there is a plot of land that takes up a full block of the crowded city. There is no grass, just dirt, but it is cared for by the residents of the neighborhood, and by the groups of kids who come together every day for football training. Before practice, they often spend 10 minutes picking up trash and placing it in garbage bins or picking up rocks and tossing them to the side of the field. It is one of the very few spaces in Kathmandu that has been set aside for young people to use. 

The Kuleshwor Youth Council is a group of volunteers who organize programs for the neighborhood’s children. The football training is by far the most popular. The training is run by two excellent coaches, both former players on the Nepal national team, who coach the kids for no compensation. The training is entirely free. Kids just have to show up, and they have to be willing to work hard. The field is a center of public life in the  community; each day, groups of teenagers and neighborhood adults come out to watch the kids train, and people throughout the neighborhood gather around the field whenever there is a match or tournament on the grounds.

In our last month here in Nepal, we are raising money to support the football program in Kuleshwor. The training is run entirely through donations, and they are in need of basic supplies. Our first donation will go to purchase 15 new footballs. Any new donations will create a fund for supplies like practice jerseys, shorts and socks for team members, shin guards and cleats that can be shared, water bottles, cones for drills, netting for the goals. If we raise enough, the funds can be used to send a small number of players to the football camps run by major European clubs that come through Kathmandu each year, like the one run by Real Madrid coaches in June. Several kids on the club are extremely talented, and would benefit from a week of training—but they need scholarships to be able to pay the registration costs. If we are really successful, we will set our sights on infrastructural improvements that would provide more regular maintenance of the field or a filtered water system that would allow the children to have clean water to drink at the training grounds.

For anyone who has some extra funds to share, here's where your donations would go: 

$10 would buy at least one pair of shin guards. 
$20 would buy a ball or a uniform. 
$30 would buy a pair of cleats. 
$60 would allow one kid to show up with nothing and leave with all gear and equipment he or she needs to be a member of the team. 
$300 would pay for one kid to attend a camp. 
$1,000 would allow us to begin planning a water filter system; or to pay for a water cooler and about a year's worth of clean water for practice.  

Luke Davis, the athletic director at the Lincoln School, will help to distribute these funds. He is also planning to begin a year-long service learning project in Kuleshwor with the 6th grade class at Lincoln, which is just a short walk from the training ground. 

This program is one of the most inspiring things we've seen while in Nepal. If you can, please help us make sure that these kids have what they need to take part, and that it continues into the future. 

Pat and Alyssa Sharkey

Our introduction to Kuleshwor:

We discovered the training in Kuleshwor when one of my son Thomas’ coaches at school told him about it. We decided to check it out, and showed up on a weekday afternoon. There aren’t many red-headed white kids in the neighborhood, and everyone on the field stopped and stared at Thomas when we arrived. He wanted to turn around and head home, but I encouraged him to try it out, just for one day.

He walked in, and each child there lined up to shake his hand. Within a few minutes, he was in a group of three players doing drills with a smile on his face. A month or so later, he has become close friends with several players on his team. 

As I have learned about the program and the people who run it, I have become more and more amazed by what they have built. In a place with severe deprivation and a government that is dysfunctional, programs like this are possible only when people come together and decide they are going to make it work. The small group of people who run the youth council and the football training receive no compensation, and yet they spend hours upon hours planning events to build community life and foster leadership among young people, organizing tournaments and planning schedules for training, and trying to raise funding to keep it all going.

When we leave Nepal, we'll remember the kids and coaches in Kuleshwor. What I will miss most about this country is the kindness of the people here, and that kindness is most visible among children. From the moment Thomas stepped on the field, the group of players on the Kuleshwor team have welcomed him—they take him aside to explain drills in detail, they go out of their way to partner with him on drills and warm-ups, they ask him questions about the U.S., and they treat him like a long-time teammate. It's been fun to watch. 

Thomas’ memories of “soccer in the dirt” (in his own words):

In out, in out. We weaved through the cones using the side of our foot. We had to make sure that our touches were perfect because if not the ball would bounce away on the uneven dirt. The wind blew in our direction and I tried hard to stop the dirt getting into my mouth, nose, and eyes. 

Next we got in a line and started some shooting drills with the goalies diving all over the muddy ground and guarding the torn nets. Now the wind had calmed down and the trees above looked like a huge man spreading his arms wide as if inviting us to use his shade. This made the practice a little easier but it was still hard. The coach watched over everyone on the field and I could tell he wants all of the kids to be really good. A few drills later, we played a small three versus three match with a bunch of different games going on. As the ball rolled to me I took a touch away from the defender and then passed a through ball. Everything was different, but it was the same game as back in New York. 

These are my memories of the first time I came to one of these practices, where the kids treated me with respect and made me feel welcome to their footballing community. I had taken a step away from soccer with nice turf fields and was trying a new thing. This training might sound bad but at the end of it I am always exhausted, and I have always had an amazing time with these wonderful kids.  It might not have a nice field, good balls, or other important things. But it did have nice people, and really good training. I was lucky.
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Organizer and beneficiary

Alyssa Wigton Sharkey
New York, NY
Patrick Sharkey

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