"Kaur to me means confidence and the ability to achieve anything. Growing up, I dealt with my own insecurities and a lack of confidence. Then things changed with soccer because it gave me a strong sense of self esteem, an outlet to express myself. My family and I lived in a small town, I never really experienced gender inequality, it was more racial inequality. In fact, my family completely, especially my parents were believers that girls and boys were equal, so I was encouraged to play soccer. Everyone in my family was supportive.
My family, including my siblings and cousins were all fans of the sport. My father, who coached me for a few years growing up, used to say, “no matter big or fast the other girls are, you can beat them.” He was a tough coach, he shaped me into a better player. Like all kids, I wanted to play the best soccer I could in front of my parents, especially my dad. That got me thinking about how to strategize to get through the game, what I could do to help the team win.
Even as a woman, I still play soccer with a recreational women’s team. Just yesterday, my dad came to watch a game after about a decade. Having him there made me laugh about how his passion for sport got me to this point.
I come from a Gur Sikh Family and we were encouraged to learn about gursikhi, it was a way of life for me. My religion has been my backbone. I got to a point in 2011, where I wanted to take my background in sports and turn it into a bigger cause of helping build confidence with girls in India. I picked soccer, because it was what I knew and exactly what helped me with my confidence. I chose India because of my roots and also because sports for girls, especially soccer is uncommon.
My family, especially my family and friends were supportive of this idea. In 2011, I packed a suitcase and got on a plane to India with my dad and mom, whose confidence I admired growing up. I had a vision of helping underprivileged girls. I had no real expectations. I was overwhelmed by the response, because metaphorically it was like when I took one step forward to these girls, they took 10 steps towards me. Like me, all along, they just needed someone to believe in them. This is when Shooting for Hope was created in a rural village in Punjab, India. Later that year, I took my best friend along to India with me.
My dad’s presence was a defining moment for some of the fathers there, it planted a seed in their minds about other possibilities. Initially parents, especially fathers were against their girls playing soccer. But as time went on, one man in particular started watching his daughter play. And with my Dad around, he was more receptive to letting his daughter play the sport.
This is the very same girl who would write letters and call me. She was one of many, who knew her life path would include getting to an age meant marriage and then babies. There was no opportunity for school or a different life…until soccer. With the introduction of sport, her father became interested in the idea of allowing his daughter to pursue higher education, he noticed she was happier.
These girls left a footprint in my heart. They changed who I am. I get emotional thinking about it. I was able to bring some hope and confidence to their lives. Being from Canada, it’s easy to forget how these girls are just like us, they talk about the same things and really are just humans.
The downside of picking such a rural area in Punjab was the battle of gender discrimination. My last trip was the hardest, because there were roadblocks and it sunk in what was happening. I was misled in how the finances for Shooting for Hope were going to be applied to my program, and it was very difficult as I wasn't viewed as an equal human, but essentially used for my citizenship and for the fame the program brought to the other male programs. Eventually, the societal framework instilled from generations was openly visible and challenging to fight against. I didn’t have support from my Indian male counterparts who did their best to create roadblocks and go as far as to exclude me from my own programming.
To be honest part of the journey, gets me angry, I get emotional and then I start to see the bigger picture. The soccer programming, helped those girls in that time and in my mind the door is not closed for something happening in India in the future. That temporary stall, made me look around my own local surroundings and learn that young girls in my very own background/city are also experiencing some low self-esteem and confidence issues, I think helping girls learn confidence locally will help me build a team of girls/women who have the same outlook. Perhaps it will lead to someone else building on what was started in India.”