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Aug 22, 2012 at 09:40am IST

Jharkhand: American changes lives with football

Orh-manjhi: Franz Gastler is no professional footballer. Born and brought up in Edina, Minnesota, he studied at Boston University and Harvard Law School before he found his true calling, at least 13,000 km away from home, in a small village in North India.

A professional trip around five years ago to Jharkhand changed his life forever.

He left his well-paying job, gathered all his savings and opened a football academy for tribal girls in Orh-manjhi, and because of his initiative, hundreds of tribal girls have now stepped out of their houses and taken up football seriously.

He says, "My biggest achievement has been getting these girls out of their homes, making them part of the team, delay their marriages and inculcate feeling of self pride in them. I want to expand their horizons. Mine may not be the best football academy of India but I want it to be the best."

Hutup village in Orh-manjhi is now Franz's home. Apart from football, he also helps the girls brush up their English. Three footballers from his academy have even taken part in national junior football leagues.

Says Seema Toppo, a young, budding footballer, "Whatever we have done or achieved so far has been because of Franz sir. Girls from our team have even played at national level."

Initially, it was difficult for Franz to convince parents to allow their children a shot at the beautiful game. Slowly but surely, that changed.

Now, Franz is very much a part of every household in the village.

With a little help from his friends, his family and his fellow countrymen who donated money and equipment, Franz built his academy.

Though he misses his folks back home, he is now in love with the food and the way of life in India.