Goal-Getters: NGO Safa India’s ‘Girls on Ground’ levels the playing field in Hyderabad

Girls on Ground is a spirited attempt by this NGO at ensuring inclusivity, empowerment, and opportunities in sports for young girls.

BySwati Sucharita

Published Aug 21, 2023 | 6:00 PMUpdatedAug 21, 2023 | 6:00 PM

Girls on Ground aims to create a platform to enable girls to fully utilise public playgrounds. (Supplied)

Upon first glance, this unassuming playground situated in Darulshifa within Hyderabad’s Old City area may seem like any ordinary play area.

However, on closer inspection, it becomes evident that it serves an extraordinary purpose — contributing to a unique social revolution.

As the clock approaches 4 pm, the Balshetty Khet Ground starts to fill with young girls donning jerseys and sports shoes. Among them, some are wearing hijabs, escorted by their mothers and other family members.

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Get, set, goal!

Their coach gradually lines them up for warm-up exercises, followed by dribbling the football.

Soon, there is a kick-off and the girls get into the aggressive groove of the game, running along the grounds, tackling the ball with great focus.

Finally, a spirited nine-year-old Marziya kicks the ball straight into the goalpost, amid the thundering cries of “Goal!” I spot Marziya’s jersey bearing the legend “Messi” on the back. She has chosen her football icon wisely.

But this joie de vivre on the football grounds was scarcely evident merely five months ago, during the initial earnest phases of football training.


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Getting the girls to move was a challenge since they were unaccustomed to any form of exercise.

“It took them a while to get used to warming up, running around the ground, and performing strengthening exercises,” Coach Mir Alamdar Ali explains, “Now, they have become comfortable and have embraced the sport wholeheartedly.”

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Trailblazing transformation

So, how did this laudable transformation happen?

The inception of this remarkable idea owes itself to a serendipitous observation by Rubina Nafees Fatima, Founder and CEO of Safa India — an NGO dedicated to empowering marginalised women in Hyderabad — and her sister, Fareesa Khan, Vice-President at Safa.

“One evening, Rubina Aapa and I saw the children of the locality playing at the local Balshetty Khet Ground located opposite the balcony of our office in Darulshifa. We both asked each other the same question: Where are the girls?” recalls Fareesa.

This ignited a spark that would set in motion a powerful initiative — Girls on Ground (GoG).

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Bridging the gender gap

“As with anything that captures her attention, Rubina Aapa initiated the thought process of bridging the gender gap and getting the girls on the grounds,” says Fareesa.

However, like with any groundbreaking idea, it proved more challenging in practice.

The idea encountered initial resistance from both the owners of the gym located on the corner of the grounds and the local boys who used to monopolise the area.


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Upon realising that the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) owned and managed the playground premises, Safa members initiated communication with GHMC officials.

They were shown how to easily book the playground online for a nominal fee.

“The GHMC functionary handling the sports portfolio was encouraging and helped us choose a coach. The local corporator wholeheartedly endorsed the concept, underscoring that a good idea can never be suppressed,” Fareesa recalls.

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Endorsing equality

Safa immediately paid the fees for the ground for a two-hour slot every week.

“We’ve provided jerseys and shoes based on merit and we aspire to offer more, including a proper protein diet. However, our finances are limited,” she says.

“Our GoG mission aims for gender inclusivity. We want to create a sports platform for girls to use public playgrounds. Hyderabad’s numerous sports complexes and municipal playgrounds are sadly under-utilised by girls, despite our city’s sporting heritage,” notes Rubina, a former state-level badminton player.

“This initiative aims to empower girls by fostering peer interactions, community integration, and the development of physical and mental abilities. It also aspires to cultivate leadership, community ownership, and entrepreneurial skills among them,” she elaborates.

Also Read: Telangana karateka Nishta nurses Olympic ambitions

On the ground

Girls on Ground underwent testing in 2022, but its formal launch took place in March 2023 during a football event attended by 70 enthusiastic girls under 15, with overall 200 attendees.

Shabbir Ali, the first Dhyan Chand awardee in football, inaugurated the event.

To familiarise the girls with the sport, Mir Alamdar Ali, a former national-level player-cum-coach, along with two assistants and coordinator Aafreen, joined the initiative.

Awareness campaigns

To promote the concept and build awareness, GoG started distributing flyers at both government and private schools in the locality.

“At the Safa office, the women initiated a daily familiarisation effort. They engaged in activities like kho kho, kabaddi, and badminton on the grounds. Through a mix of playfulness and purpose, they dispelled initial awkwardness and established their presence in the community space,” Fareesa says.


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When the project was open for registrations, the response was tremendous.

“On the first day, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing until almost midnight. We had a team dinner that evening and one of the admin members skipped the dinner meet so that he could attend to the calls inquiring about enrollments!” recalls Rubina.

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Development goals

This initiative falls under Safa’s Tarbiyat (educate) category, offering girls practical training, leadership workshops, and skill enhancement in areas such as technical proficiency, physical abilities, leadership traits, health awareness, and life skills.

“GoG endorses gender equality as per the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5,” chips in Imam Hussain, Safa’s project manager, with prior experience in UNDP projects for tribal girls in Telangana.

Additionally, it involves their active participation in community events and local tournaments, enabling them to interact with the community and experience healthy competition.

Also Read: Adivasi girl Minnu Mani is eyeing the big league

Stories of support & resilience 

A tale of inspiration unfolds as I delve into the story of a slightly older girl on the field.

Sixteen-year-old Umama emerges as a shining example of resilience and determination. She’s one of Naimath’s two daughters, a single mother who bravely enrolled both Umama and her younger sister Sheema into the GoG programme.

Naimath, who works with Safa in a management capacity, has a history that speaks of courage.

Refusing to be confined by fear any longer, she walked away from an abusive marriage. Despite her estranged husband’s opposition to the girls playing football, her determination remains unyielding.

An incident comes to light that captures her unwavering spirit.


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“One day, my husband came to the grounds and demanded the girls to stop playing. Learning of this, I confronted him and he turned aggressive. Without hesitation, I warned him that I would involve the police if he came near the girls on the field. He left, though he continues his attempts to persuade my daughters to quit football,” Naimath recounts.

Umama and her sister Sheema stand as pillars of strength. They find solace and joy in the game that has become their refuge, offering them a sanctuary that years of living in fear couldn’t provide.

It is encouraging, however, to find fathers like Mohd Ansari, a school teacher, who has brought his 10-year-old daughter Nabeela from distant Amberpet to play here. He thought it was a great confidence-building move.

Mariam, the mother of Minna, agrees, “She used to sit at home once she was back from school. Homework, TV, and the phone would then keep her occupied. This way, she is learning a sport, meeting other young girls, and getting some form of exercise.”

Also Read: Will Kashmir ever be associated with sports and not just violence? 

Catalyst in motion

As these stories weave together on the field, they become a vivid testament to determination, courage, and boundless hope.

In a city that has given rise to remarkable sporting icons such as Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, and PV Sindhu, the foundation for an inspirational wave is already laid.

All that’s required is a catalyst like the Girls on Ground initiative to set the motion in place.

To support the girls on the ground, visit Instagram @SafaIndia