Big Goals: Tauseef’s Story

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Using teamwork to protect youth from drugs and crime

It’s afternoon in Lyari, one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Karachi, Pakistan. Tall apartment buildings loom in every direction around the football pitch where Tauseef and a group of boys between 10 and 13 are passing balls back and forth while they talk. Lyari is the spiritual home of football in Pakistan; many of the country’s greatest players have emerged from its crowded streets, and the boys are here with Tauseef because they want to follow in the footsteps of the athletes they idolize.

“The biggest problems amongst youth here are drugs and violence. No one is safe from such problems. It’s all around us.” – Tauseef, 20

Lyari is also known for poverty, drugs, and violence, and that’s what Tauseef is talking to the boys about. Impoverished boys are common targets for recruitment by drug traffickers, who have fought multiple gang wars in the past 20 years over control of the neighbourhood’s lucrative drug markets. When they’re not being recruited as runners for the drug cartels, teenage boys are propositioned to become customers. Tauseef wants to help them resist both options and strive for something more.

“The biggest problems amongst youth here are drugs and violence. No one is safe from such problems. It’s all around us. I use the football for development sessions with children in Lyari to help them stay away from these things,” he says.

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Learning leadership and dedication

Tauseef, 20, is from Lyari himself, and he understands the challenges the boys are facing. His father was a rising star in local football before poverty forced him to stop playing and work as a day labourer to support the family. The family had trouble making ends meet, and Tauseef, as the youngest son, had to drop out of school several times for lack of funds. Despite that challenge, he managed to avoid the lure of easy money from the gangs, and instead spent his spare time playing football with his peers in the streets. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a football player.

In 2015, Tauseef had returned to school when Right To Play launched a program in Lyari that used football to help local boys and girls build confidence, communication, and leadership skills. He jumped at the chance to participate, and playing regularly brought out his talents. Before long, he had become a Junior Leader and was helping coaches run sessions. He even joined the youth advisory committee whose role was to make suggestions about how to improve the program. The dedication and discipline he learned while running football sessions translated back into his schoolwork. He began to attend school regularly again, and his grades improved.

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In 2018, Tauseef was selected to join a Right To Play youth delegation that was headed to Moscow for the FIFA Foundation Festival. It was his first time leaving Pakistan. In Moscow, he joined thousands of youth in Red Square in an international football tournament. For the first few days, Tauseef showed off his skills and tried to impress his teammates, but he quickly realized that showmanship wasn’t going to help them win. He started applying some of the lessons he had learnt about collaboration and teamwork, and things improved. It was one of Tauseef’s first times playing with girls, and he saw how others underestimated their skills. He decided to differ from the other boys and encouraged the rest of his team to pass to them and incorporate them fully into the plans they made.

Coming home to make a difference

Returning from Moscow, Tauseef found himself fired up with excitement. When the second phase of Right To Play’s football for development program started up in Lyari, he was one of the first to volunteer as an ambassador for the program. His role involved reaching out to young boys in the community using football training sessions. He would inspire them to resist the pressures to get involved with drugs and crime using their love of football, just as it had once helped him.

Each week since he started as an ambassador, he leads a group of boys through football drills, and then gathers them together afterwards to talk about team-building and how they’ve grown and developed, the challenges they’re facing, and how they can apply the lessons they’ve learnt from football to confronting and overcoming those challenges in their own lives.

“I also have a dream to build a football ground for use by girls. They deserve to play just like we do.” - Tauseef

His work with boys is continuing, but Tauseef wants to expand it to help girls as well. They face the same challenges with drugs, crime, and poverty but they don’t have as many outlets as Tauseef and the boys. Tauseef doesn’t think that’s fair, and he wants to try to change it.

When one of the coaches in the program, Farzana, decided to open a vocational skills centre for girls, Tauseef volunteered to get involved, and he now helps Farzana with outreach, offering football lessons to groups of local girls who want a chance to play. He even recruited his own sisters as participants to encourage more girls to attend the sessions.

Tauseef dreams of doing even more. His next project is to create a sports field in Lyari dedicated to women’s sports, establishing a dedicated space where they can gather and play. “I have a dream to build a football ground for use by girls. They deserve to play just like we do,” he says.

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