Road to an Offside Dream Women REFUGEES, football and a nation

6:30 am in the morning in a small Tibetan settlement in Dehradun, Yangdan Lhamo sets off for her everyday Football practice. Yangdan, a 24-year-old first generation refugee, came to India when she was 13 years old. Her uncle who was working in Taiwan convinced her parents to send her to India so that she can receive some education. 13 years later, Yangdan is part of the Tibetan Women’s Soccer.

Cassie Childers founded Tibetan Women's Soccer in 2010. Cassie was from the United States and was working with the Tibetan National Sports Association in Dharamsala. Once while attending an exhibition showcasing the history of Tibetan soccer. Cassie was surprised to notice that she was the only female present at the event. A month later, Tibetan Women’s Soccer was set up.

Clement Town, Dehradun, India

Female players of all age groups and from all parts of India and even Nepal join the training camps organised by TWS every year where they are not only taught how to play football, but the camp also includes other training like - empowerment, psychology, communication, etc. The team has participated in some international and national football events. The girls hope to be able to play for Tibet one day.

Cassie, the founder of TWS, shares a close and warm relationship with the team members. “We are constantly in touch through group chats on Facebook”, Tsering Lhamo (16), a team member, told us.

A team of 5 journalism students visited Clement Town in an attempt to make a documentary on TWS. The whole team was not available as the training camp was scheduled for March 2017. We met three girls - Yangdan Lhamo (25), Tsering Lhamo (16) and Ngwang Oesto (15) - and this is their story.

Tibet Nehru Memorial Foundation School in Clementown, Dehradun.

Yangdan Lhamo

Age: 25 years

Position: Midfielder

Fled from Tibet at the age of 13 years. Since then she is living Clement Town, Dehradun, India.

When we first met Yangdan she came out as a shy and introvert girl. Although the shy and introvert girl turned into a great friend by the time we were supposed to leave.

Yangdan travelled from Tibet alone about 13 years ago, since then she has lived here in India on her own. Yangdan feels that playing football has given her the necessary push in life, and helped her overcome a lot of stereotypes and setbacks. Yangdan practices with guys in the grounds of Tibetan Nehru Memorial Foundation School every day before she goes to work at a local salon.

Ngawang Oetso

Age: 15 Years

Position: Midfielder

One of the youngest players in Tibetan Women Soccer (TWS). Known for her sharp skills. Her favourite football player is Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior.

Ngawang Oetso is Tibetan who was born in India. She was interested in sports from her childhood, but her skills in football brought Tibetan Women Soccer towards her. She is currently studying in 10th standard. Alongside playing football, she also wants to become a Physical Training teacher in future. Though, her mother is not much confident about her future as a footballer and wants her to marry after reaching a suitable age. Mr Gompo Dorjee, the coach of the Tibetan Women Soccer (TWS), told us that she is one of the most talented players of the TWS. She loves every part of the game and transforms herself when in the field. Playing football for any club in future could be a thing of joy for her, but her dream is to have a tag of 'Team Tibet' on her back while she is giving her best kick. But how far few goals remain from truth, is a thing to be watched in future.

Tsering Lhamo

Age: 16 Years

Position: Semi-midfielder

Known for her good sense of football. Likes to go with aggressive strategy in a game. Her favourite player is Christiano Ronaldo.

She is passionate and loves to talk about football. After living for a brief time at Majnu Ka Tilla Tibetan Settlement in New Delhi, Tsering's parents sent her to Clement Town for her further studies. She is currently studying in 10th standard and lives in a hostel nearby her school. Now, playing for TWS, Lhamo is ready to give a shot of her life. We asked her about the team she would like to play for in future and she replied before giving a second thought. "Tibet of course...It's my country; I have to represent it after all" said Lhamo. Her words were bold and more than just imagination. And what's wrong, we know nations often exist, not always on the land but in the form of collective memories and imagination.

Since 1959, every day, Tibetans displaced from their homeland gather at the foot of the Himalayas to undertake the arduous journey to India. They leave their lives in Tibet behind to start from the scratch in a foreign land.

In India, they have become a part of our society. Settled in various regions of India they work and have a decent life which revolves around their tradition. Tibet is alive both in their aspiration and imagination. They have been able to sustain their struggle on various fronts. Sports is one of them. But the story is accompanied by few questions. What when the dreams float above the water of uncertainty? The hope that belongs to these girls and others out there who are playing for a nation that does exist for them but not for the world.

This story is produced by

Vishank Singh, Jamphel Sherab, Ekta Handa, Deepak Vaishnav, Shubham Koul

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