Unstoppable Marthal: building a better future for herself and others

A young girl, who almost quit school, has cleared UPSC prelims and encourages other children by coaching football

By Suma Ravi
Published: Wednesday 09 August 2017
Marthal (above) is preparing for the IAS examination
Marthal (above) is preparing for the IAS examination Marthal (above) is preparing for the IAS examination

Marthal burns the night oil preparing for the UPSC examination, surrounded with piles of books in her small settlement located in Chennai’s slum pocket of Vyasarpadi. She is elated to have cleared the prelims for IAS, for she had (almost) quit school and given up education.

“I have already cleared my prelims for IAS. I never thought I could have come so far, but now that I have, I will definitely give it my best shot to make the most of the opportunity,” she says.

The 22-year-old hails from a Dalit family. Her father, the only earning member of the family, is a tailor. Despite being busy in preparing for her upcoming examination, Marthal always finds time to coach football to class 10 and 12 students. She hopes the sport will give young children the opportunity to dream big, as it did to her. 

As a young adolescent in class 8, Marthal dropped out of school—like many other children in this country—owing to poor infrastructure and verbal abuse by teachers. Her school did not have a clean or safe toilet for girl students. It neither had water. She was often ridiculed for being a slum dweller.

Slum Children’s Sports Talent Education Society (SCSTEDS), a grassroot-level organisation supported by non-profit Child Rights and You (CRY), spotted her and intervened.

The project staff motivated her to continue education. They also counselled her parents to support her in her quest. When the family raised concern over the lack of basic infrastructure and the teachers’ behaviour, the organisation initiated a dialogue with the school authorities. Awareness and capacity building programmes sensitised the teachers. Infrastructural facilities were sanctioned through intensive advocacy efforts, and Marthal enrolled to the school within a month’s time.

During this time and all through school, football helped Marthal stay motivated. It lifted her spirit and gave confidence. With constant encouragement from the team, peers and family, Marthal not only excelled in football, but also in studies. She participated in competitive tournaments, and excelled in her higher secondary examination, surpassing everyone’s expectations.

Marthal (second from right) coaches football to children from her slum

“I prepared for my IAS examinations while I was pursuing bachelors in commerce. Football has not only helped me make many encouraging friends or find great motivators, it has also helped to build my concentration to a large extent. So, preparing for both the examinations was not that tough,” says a confident Marthal.

Marthal coaches students from Class 10 to 12 so that they perform well in the board examination. She wants to make sure that every child in her slum gets the opportunity to dream big like her. As she prepares to serve the country as an officer, Marthal is also inspiring others to face life and break free from the shackles of adversities.

The article is a part of the joint initiative by CRY and Down To Earth to present stories of underprivileged and marginalised children who have realised their true potential despite adversities

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