An inspirational team of 20 girls from India has come to Minnesota with a mission -- to be the country's first team to play in the Schwan's USA Cup tournament and take a stand against child marriage, illiteracy, and human trafficking.
The "Super Goats" team is part of the Yuwa program, which means "youth" in Hindi. It was founded by Edina-native Franz Gastler in Jharkhand, where an estimated 30,000 girls are trafficked every year. Now, the girls hope their participation in the international soccer tournament will prove that girls around the world have a bright future before them.
The Super Goats team had to raise $50,000 to travel more than 7,875 miles to Minnesota by train and plane, and they're hoping to hit a new fundraising goal in Minnesota. The group aims to raise another $300,000 while they are here to build a girl's dormitory in India where children can get food and an education.
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At the National Sports Center, Ruhi Kumari and her friends are practicing up on their soccer skills -- but they aren't just at the international tournament for kicks.
"Very different from India," Kumari reflected. "Few girls in our area play, but here, everyone is playing. It's cool for us, new for us."
The girls told Fox 9 News they are proud to be the first to represent their home country in the international tournament, and they hope their presence will raise awareness about the issues children face there. The team was the brainchild of Gastler and three other Minnesotans who were teaching English in rural India and wanted to help young girls avoid dropping out of school to become child brides, a common practice there.
For the past 5 years, the girls -- most of whom live in mud huts and don't have access to toilets or running water -- have honed their football skills. In doing so, they've also captured the heart of their country. Now, the girls say the game has changed their lives.
"We play on dirt patches in a village the size of a penalty box, and now, they are playing on a huge field of grass -- 66 fields in the biggest soccer complex in the U.S.," Gastler said.
After winning a bronze trophy at a football tournament in Spain, one of the girls even addressed a crowd at the intellectual symposium in Aspen known as the Ted Talks to say she wants "to feel free like the boys."