In the heart of the majestic Himalayas, change is taking place. In Nepal, soccer is redefining hope and transformation in an unconventional setting - prisons. This revolution, bannered under the "Rehabilitation Through Football" program, is a testament to the collaborative effort of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), and Shelter Ashraya Nepal (SAN), catalyzing an uplifting voyage of rehabilitation and empowerment in Nepal's prisons.
Launched last year and concluded successfully in July 2023, the program was enthusiastically supported by the AFC Dream Asia Foundation (ADAF). It superbly exemplifies the ADAF's mission of "Football Cares", employing the influential power of soccer to advance physical and mental well-being, cultivate a sense of community, and furnish Nepal's incarcerated population with crucial life skills needed for successful societal reintegration.
Under the umbrella of "Prison Football", the initiative was introduced across four prisons in Nepal, including three in Kathmandu and one in the Jhapa district. The comprehensive program combines basic football training, an inter-prison tournament, and counseling sessions. It strategically aimed at rehabilitation, harnessing the unifying and empowering nature of soccer.
112 inmates became soccer coaches
Remarkably, the one-year capacity-building program triggered a positive ripple effect within the confinements of the prisons. It prepared 112 inmates to become soccer coaches, who in turn initiated the "Football for Hope" initiative. Each newly trained coach tutored 50 fellow prisoners, exponentially magnifying the program's impact.
As a testament to the success and influence of the program, the Jhapa District Jail saw inmates establishing a youth league, under which 11 clubs involving 200 prisoners and 48 prison staff are presently registered. The expansion of the "Prison Football" initiative benefited an impressive total of 1160 individuals, showcasing the power of soccer in driving social change.
Beyond the boundaries of the soccer field, the influence of the program stretched. Even the prisoners who did not participate directly noted improved mental health, absorbing the program's atmosphere of sportsmanship and teamwork.
The impact of the program did not go unnoticed. Dawa Lama, ANFA Vice President, and AFC Social Responsibility Committee Member, praised the project as a beacon for the sports community, showcasing the power of football in promoting rehabilitation and instilling hope for a brighter future. Khusbu Oli, President of Shelter Ashraya Nepal, reiterated Lama's sentiments, acknowledging the project's inspiring effect on the lives of the inmates and the immense support received from partners, volunteers, and donors.
Shelter Ashraya Nepal, in collaboration with the AFC and the ANFA, has announced plans to continue its remarkable initiative. "We're bringing in the players, referees, and coaches for an educational program that will help the prisoners gain confidence, enhance their mental health, and deter them from reverting to their past lives," stated Oli, the driving force behind the program.
The football revolution didn't stop at the prison walls. Shelter Ashraya Nepal recently joined the Homeless World Cup network, becoming part of over 70 grassroots organizations representing their respective countries at the Homeless World Cup. Nepal has entered the network for the first time since its establishment in 2003, indicating the power of soccer is gaining momentum and spreading hope beyond the imprisoned.
The power of soccer to change lives and societies has been particularly apparent in Nepal, a small mountainous nation between the superpowers India and China in Southern Asia. After a severe earthquake in 2015, which claimed the lives of over 9,000 people and damaged or destroyed over 850,000 homes, the need for societal healing was crucial. Shelter Ashraya Nepal's work in Nepal is a ray of hope in these challenging times.
"Rehabilitation Through Football" and the inclusion in the Homeless World Cup network are significant initiatives that underline the transformative power of soccer. Through its implementation, these programs have promoted physical and mental well-being among prisoners, the homeless, and the community, instilling hope and ambition for a brighter future. These initiatives indicate the potential for sports, particularly football, to positively transform individuals, communities, and societies. The echoes of their impact resonate far beyond the soccer field, inspiring optimism for a more hopeful future.