In a remote rural belt where opportunities for women are often frowned upon, Sanjay Pathak’s relentless mission to change the lives of young girls from Siwan, Bihar is a groundbreaking effort. The Rani Lamibai Sports Academy is a residential training area for local girls that has mentored girls who are winning laurels at the international stage.
Sanjay Pathak’s journey began back in 2009. He was posted at Adarsh Government at Laxmipur village of Siwan district in Bihar. Two girls from the school Tara and Putul reached him. They needed a teacher to take them to a local sports tournament. They eagerly wanted to participate in the competition. But didn’t know who to reach. Perhaps Sanjay carried an aura that reflected how supportive he is of students. “They had worked hard for it. I couldn’t say no to their request.” He recalls agreeing to accompany them. What happened next was euphoric. “The girls ran splendidly well. I watched the crowd cheer for them when they got on stage to receive their gold medals. It made me cry with joy. It was so endearing to see how these girls performed, despite never having any formal training.” Their potential convinced him to bring a training academy to Siwan.
Sanjay essentially started with training Tara and Putul in the sports ground of his school. Other girls were quick to show interest upon seeing the two train so hard. The count reached 100 in the next few months. Despite a lack of sports training, Pathak used his unparalleled passion for the cause and began learning about different sports online. He brought resources for games like rugby, football, handball, and various forms of athletics to the village for the first time.
Walking on the broken glass of stereotypes
Sanjay and his students didn’t have it easy outside the field. The orthodox thinking of the locals soon posed an obstacle. Unfortunately, the first few signs of resistance came in from his office colleagues in the form of ugly accusations on his character. “The allegations made me wonder why people always felt the need to suspect malintent in any good cause. I am a teacher. Parents trust me with their children’s safety for seven hours each day. Why should they have mistrust” The apprehension didn’t stop there. Some people went as far as throwing broken glass pieces on the training fields to demoralise the young girls from training further. On most days, before beginning their training, they would first clean up the field to get rid of any glass. There has even been an instance when people used force to make the group evacuate the sports ground. But, all of this couldn’t stop the group from achieving what they had their eyes on.
As any other mentor would be, Sanjay was concerned about the safety of the kids. He decided to move his base to a different location. He cleared 2 acres of his land and developed a training ground there. The Rani Laxmibai Sports Academy is empowering girls on that land to date.
The Crunch of Money
It was at this stage when Sanjay found himself in need of money for the initiative. Before this, he would only buy sports equipment for the team. But he wanted to take things further. He wanted to build a hostel, provide balanced diets, and fund school education for the girls. Given the resistance from the people around him, he couldn’t have expected much help. He had no option than to spend almost his entire savings to provide for the initiative. When that didn’t suffice he sold his gold rings and mortgaged his wife’s gold. At this point, he even started feeling the presence of a very hushed opposition from his family. “Whatever I did, my wife supported me like a strong pillar. I couldn’t have done it without her” he reflects in gratitude.
12 years of awe-inspiring impact
However, all resentment died down when awards started pouring in. The girls excelled at various levels. It drew the attention of notable authorities and organisations from and outside the country. Several bureaucrats made generous offerings to make things easier for him. Recent support extended by Dream Sports has also opened mentorship and scholarships opportunities for the students at both national and international levels. It has been 12 years since Tara Khatoon and Putul Kumari took Sanjay to the local tournament. A lot has changed since then. He has trained around 250 girls so far. 80 of which have become global athletes. Many of them have found government jobs for themselves. And are now financially independent. A significant first for the women of Laxmipur. Few girls from his Football team have even represented India at international tournaments.
Safe to say that Rani Laxmibai Sports Academy went from picking up pieces of broken glass to breaking the glass ceiling!