news Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 05:30
  Fifty-five-year-old Kalyani, a housewife, had never held a volleyball in her hands – that is until October 2014 when she joined one of the teams in Kerala’s Thrissur district. “Now eight months of practice has made me a good player,” Kalyani who is from Thrissur’sPeramangalam tells The News Minute. Kalyani is not the only woman in the district to take up the sport. In fact the numbers are rising in Thrissur. There are so far 11 volleyball teams with 250 women players, most of whom are housewives whose average age is 45 and have no prior experience of playing the game. “Most of the women have been restricted to a small world inside their family. They are not bothered about their wellbeing.  Most of us had many health issues before joining this venture but now we feel the freshness of being healthy.” It all started with a programme called Women Integration & Growth through Sports (WINGS) initiated by NA Vinaya, a female police officer at Thrissur Police Academy who is known for fighting for gender equality within the police force and is no stranger to controversy. “Think about our housewives whose world is inside four walls, [their] life completely dedicated to her husband and children. Most of the women here face health issues after 30s since they sit at home and are limited to household chores,” Vinaya says. Vinaya, who also once protested against the non-inclusion of scores from women sporting events in the district tally, says that most of the women in WINGS were also victims of being ill-treated by their family and this programme is a form of rehabilitation. “Most of them were subjected to domestic violence and many other gender biases. Through this programme I intend to make them strong mentally and physically,” she says. Vinaya travelled through Thrissur in 2014 and at first formed five teams in different parts of the district. Later, the number of teams increased and the 11 teams in the district formed into WINGS. The organisation will be officially launched on May 28 this year. “Each group has a leader and they themselves found out a coach from their locality to train them in volleyball,” she says. Other than regular training, WINGS also provide some external assistance to these groups. Some of the experts like state-level players provide short-term training and practice. Ratheesh Chullikad a coach who trains five WINGS volleyball teams says that this initiation is a revolution in women empowerment. “Most of them are married for 20 or 30 years and settled in Thrissur, but have not even seen a Thrissur pooram (a major festival). That shows how they were so much restricted inside the house. So more than a game, WINGS helps them for social upliftment,” Ratheesh says. “With proper coaching they all are doing well, we have won many village-level competitions. Above all, many of them have responded that they are feeling healthy and refreshed now,” he says. Kalyani, who suffers from diabetes and blood pressure problems, says that  ever since she started playing none of those bother her as much anymore. "I also had many issues at home. Mentally and physically I was weak. But here I met many women like me, we play the game together. Now playing is refreshing for me I feel myself becoming stronger," she says. Since the tagline for the programme is “My health, My priority”, the organisers say that WINGS pushes housewives to make their mental and physical health a top priority along with their family. “Most of the women have been restricted to a small world inside their family. They are not bothered about their wellbeing.  Most of us had many health issues before joining this venture but now we feel the freshness of being healthy,” says Shamida Hameed, Secretary of WINGS and a volleyball player in one of the teams. “There are many players in our team who are above 50 who regularly attend the practice without fail. They always say that this programme also gives them a sense of freedom,” she says. Vinaya says that she did not expect the scale of success for this venture in the beginning. Now she has plans to expand WINGS programmes in other sports as well. “Last month we conducted a shuttle (badminton) tournament, next we are planning to constitute shuttle teams, and for the rainy season we have planned to arrange some indoor games for the participants,” Vinaya says. All images source: Vinaya/Facebook Also read: Kerala's umbrella innovation: One which connects to your mobile phone