Kerala's Inspirational Coach Girija Madhu Empowers Cerebral Palsy Kids Through Football
Vol 15 | Issue 5
In Kerala’s Alappuzha district, football enthusiast Girija Kumari Madhu has become a change-maker by building a successful football squad composed of children combating Cerebral Palsy.
Affecting body movement and muscle coordination, Cerebral Palsy (CP) often relegates its young patients to the margins of society, leaving them overlooked and neglected.
|Girija Kumari Madhu launched Cerebral Palsy Sports Association of Kerala in 2021 (Photos: Special Arrangement)
Girija founded the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association of Kerala (CPSAK) three years ago. She began organising football activities for kids with CP in her village, Thamarakulam, which is around 62 km from Alappuzha.
Girija led CPSAK to victory in five major competitions, including the 2023 Khelo India Para Games, despite getting no support or recognition from the Kerala State Sports Council.
She even pledged her gold to make sure the 20 kids with cerebral palsy in her program got proper training and food.
"For our team to compete in a national event, we need a minimum of Rs. 5 lakh to handle expenses like practice, stay, travel, and food. In 2021, when I first wanted my team to participate, my only choice was to mortgage my jewellery," says Girija.
For the first national meet, Girija managed to gather Rs. 2 lakh by pledging her jewellery, and she had to repeat this a few more times for her team to join other tournaments.
It's quite extraordinary how a woman from a village, living a simple life, transformed into a football coach and created champions from kids with CP.
Coming from a humble farmer's family in Thamarakulam, Alappuzha, Girija Madhu, now 50, had a normal upbringing with five brothers and two sisters.
|Girija's wards have won major football tournaments including the 2023 Khelo India Para Games
She finished her Class 12 in 1992 from a local school and wanted to study more, but had to think about her family's financial situation. So, she did a nursing course in Kottayam to support her mom.
After working in a hospital for two years, earning Rs. 750 a month, she married Madhu Soodhanan, an electrical contractor from her village, in 1995. For ten years, she focused on her home, supported by her loving and supportive husband.
Madhu and Girija have two sons - Yadu Krishnan, a 25-year-old civil engineer in Bahrain, and Gokul Krishnan, 20, studying B. Tech in civil engineering in Kerala. After her younger son was born, Madhu started a small tailoring business at her home in Thamarakulam.
She even learned designing and ran it for 10 years, making nighties and saree underskirts, employing three women.
Girija, who loved sports since school but couldn't pursue it due to family conditions, later enrolled her second son in the local football academy, Chathiyara football Academy (CFA), in 2011.
By 2017, Girija was still involved with her son's football training. When many good coaches left CFA, she decided to become a coach herself. She joined a six-day football coaching course in Alappuzha, AIFA-D.
In her initial attempt, she failed in the practical part, despite getting 72% in theory. She then retook the course in Kochi and got her certificate.
Later, Girija heard about the FIFA/CIES India Executive Programme in Sports Management by Pillai Group, Mumbai, in 2021.
She called their office in Mumbai but struggled to speak in English, mixing in Malayalam words.
|Girija is part of AIFA's Golden Baby League, which aims to train rural kids in football
“The lady on the other side was a Malayali woman named Dr. Celina Joy, who understood my plight. She asked me to relax and explain everything in Malayalam,” Girija remembers.
With Celina's help, Girija applied for the sports management course and brushed up her English for the interview. At the interview, she impressed the faculty with her enthusiasm and was admitted as a special case.
Then COVID hit, and the course moved online in 2021. Girija completed this one-year course and soon became the team manager of Kerala's senior girls' football team.
Girija also joined AIFA's Golden Baby League, which trains 500 rural kids in football every year, and has done three seasons so far. Working there, she met Kavita Suresh, who was leading the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association of India.
Kavita was in Kerala to support children with Cerebral Palsy and wanted to start a CP Football Association in Kerala.
The idea of helping children with Cerebral Palsy through football struck a chord with Girija. “I call Dr. Celina Joy as my first mentor and Kavita Suresh as my second mentor,” she says.
After discussing with her family, who supported her fully, she and the officials began reaching out to parents of CP-affected children in Kerala.
|Girija has identified numerous young talent to play football from around Kerala
“We established the Cerebral Palsy Football Association of Kerala in 2021 and selected 10 kids for a training camp in Thamarakulam,” Girija explains.
Two of these kids were football players. Some parents assisted at the camp, helping with daily tasks. The camp initially took place at Vocational H.S. School, and now they have a rented facility but still use the school for practice.
“From 2021, we have trained around 250 CP children and won all five national events we participated in, including the Khelo India Para Games 2023," says Girija.
Before joining the association, Girija researched a lot about CP children and met their families to understand their struggles.
“My husband and I thought about our time raising normal children who could do things by themselves. But these CP children struggle even to eat due to muscle and balance issues,” she says.
Girija was moved by their challenges. “I felt I had to help these kids, as a way of thanking God for my healthy children. Society often ignores or mocks these children, and their parents fear for their future,” she recalls.
Explaining coaching challenges, Girija says, 'We train CP children like normal ones, but it's tough. Finding parents willing to enroll their kids is hard, so we conduct talent hunts. Luckily, now people know about us and reach out directly. The best part for these kids is gaining social visibility and acceptance.”
She encourages parents to start fitness training early for CP kids.
In 2023, Girija started Amogha Foundation with support from her brother-in-law to skill disabled children and those from financially weak backgrounds. They have already aided 15 children by providing scooters and laptops and supporting their skill development.
Recently, the Oorja Foundation, led by SS Jaishankar, a manager at HDFC bank, noticed their work in a newspaper article and reached out.
|Girija holding one of the trophies won by her team
Oorja, which initially helped deaf people, now supports Amogha’s CP children and women, offering year-long training in skills like graphic design and helping them secure jobs for an independent future.
Grateful for her family's encouragement, Girija is happy with her choices. “Our sons take pride in our work and connect me with CP children. My in-laws are supportive too, though some relatives question why I left my profitable tailoring business.
“But we are content with our life. Our needs are few, and I earn from coaching at football academies, including our village's CFA club,” she signs off. - ©TWL