July 14, 2014
Ashmita squinted in the harsh midday sun, her eyes focusing on the opposing team’s striker who was rapidly approaching. As her team’s goalkeeper, Ashmita was the last line of defense of her team’s hopes for advancing in this tournament.
Ashmita took position, readying herself as well as she could. “I was observing the striker minutely,” she says. “Read the striker’s body language carefully, my coach had suggested, and you’ll be able to tell where they will aim the ball.”
Every moment the striker got closer and closer as the moment of truth approached. “Even before the striker kicked the ball, I had already dived, arms outstretched.”
“The next few moments are little hazy,” she says. “What I vividly remember is the audiences’ thunderous cheers,” the signal that whatever she did had saved the team from defeat. Ashmita’s save carried the team into in the top three in the district football tournament. The tournament attracts the most competitive schools in the district and is one of the most anticipated annual events.
Today, Ashmita wears her confidence like a crown. If football has taught her anything, it is to live up to the challenges the world throws at her, and the world has certainly thrown some challenges at Ashmita.
Ashmita’s father left her mother when she was very young. A single parent, Ashmita’s mother did what she could – from taking multiple odd jobs to working tirelessly as a housemaid. Still unable to sustain her family, Ashmita’s mother reluctantly made a decision to go to United Arab Emirates to work as domestic help. Ashmita was five years old at that time. The weight of that decision fell squarely on Ashmita – who had to face the distance apart from her mother as young girl and the likelihood of never stepping inside a schoolroom again.
“If it wasn’t for Room to Read’s timely support,” says Ashmita, “I would have been living with my relatives in Kathmandu, probably working as a domestic help myself.”
As a part of our Girls’ Education program, Ashmita receives mentorship and support that encourages her to thrive in school and in all areas of her life, including athletics. “I wouldn’t have dreamt of playing football if our teachers wouldn’t have encouraged us,” she says.
Pasang Sherpa, one of the teachers in her school, has seen a sharp rise in female participation in games – especially in football after Ashmita’s wonderful performance. “Her performance has helped to tear down the misconception that only academically weak students gravitate towards sports,” he says. “Ashmita’s marvelous performance on the field and in the classroom has been exemplary for our students. Many students look up to her.”
“I never had a serious interest in the game,” she shares. “I only agreed to play when our seasoned goalkeeper got injured. I thought I’d be hopeless and that the tournament was a lost cause.” She went to practice afraid her team would regret the decision to include her. However, not long into the first practice match, she realized her side was not giving up any goals. Far from it – she was actually denying seasoned players. No matter how much they tried, they couldn’t get pass her – a rookie goalie.
“I was surprised that I could play that well,” she says. “After the first practice session, the team decided that I was their goalie. There was no backing out now. I practiced a lot. As a first time player with a lot of responsibility riding on my shoulders, I devoted most of my time to practice.”
“Fear was my great motivator, and I pushed myself as hard as I could. I was always afraid that my lucky streak would suddenly come to an end in the middle of an important match—afraid that I would be exposed and my talents would be nothing more than a ruse. That fear kept me on my toes.”
She trained so much that when she first stepped inside the pitch for her first game, she was already a little battle worn. “I wore bruises and an injured finger to the first game,” she says. “My throat was parched and I felt like the entire stadium could hear the thunder of my heartbeat.”
But she soon discovered her fears to be unfounded as she denied strike after strike. With her talent, her team made a beeline to the final stages where a heartbreaking error and accidental kick into their own goal from a fellow teammate ended their dream. “It taught the team a great lesson,” she says. “We were not as alert as we should’ve been.”
If Ashmita has noticed anything different since having the opportunity to play football, it is her new found footing on and off the field. Her confidence glistens, and she draws her resolve from the same pool she did when she was playing the games. The only difference is that fear doesn't render her sleepless at night anymore. "It feels great to be in control," she says. "I am now confident that I can achieve anything if I work hard enough."