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Football coach S Mariappan adopted a group of girls affected by the tsunami and made them soccer champs

3/2/2017 4:01:02 PM
written By : Nithya Subramanian Print

To the world you may be just a teacher, but to your students you are an icon. Football coach S Mariappan is much more than that. He is actually a saint as he has taken the role of a teacher to another realm by adopting 33 girls who were affected by the deadly 2004 Christmas Day tsunami that killed over 12,000 people and displaced 650,000. Tamil Nadu, in India was the worst affected.

Twelve years on, 12 girls out of the 33, who have become young women are key players of a football team – the Jeppiaar FC - that played in the first Indian Women’s League. These youngsters were raised in a government-run children’s home in Cuddalore, a coastal district in Tamil Nadu.

Speaking exclusively to India Se from Madras, Mariappan said. “I am the adopted father of all these girls, my wife their mother and my son is like a brother to all these girls.”

Each one of them was severely affected by the tsunami where they lost their parents and family members. “I used to be the Physical Education Director for the boys of the school attached to the home. But the girls would sit and just watch them eagerly. Then when a few bold ones approached me to ask if I could teach them the game, I decided to give it a try, ” he said. Mariappan was a little hesitant initially, but soon he got extremely attached to them and is now proud of all their achievements.

For the girls, too, football came as a relief as it gave them the opportunity to get out of the constricting environment of the home and ‘see the world’. As their star performer tsunami survivor K Sumithra said, “We saw that the boys got to go out of the home for various tournaments and thought it is one way of getting an opportunity to see the world. Of course now we love the sport too.”

Life was tough for these young girls who had little access to the outside world. Their window was a few local newspapers, once-a-week movie on television and meagre food. No matter how hungry they were, all they got for dinner was two idlies. With few or almost no visits from relatives, these youngsters had bleak lives. 

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