From a distance, one can see children engaged in some sport—a familiar sight at Miss Barker Memorial Girls High School at Khunti, near Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi. Several of them have picked up football recently.

But as you step closer, there is a surprise awaiting you. There are only girls who are playing football and sprinting from one corner to another with near gay abandon.

No one had ever contacted the school to ask if the teenage girls would be interested in sport, Principal P Tigga says. So, when the question was popped before her, it did not take much effort for her to agree to the suggestion. It was a never-before opportunity that she got to judge the interest of the girls in a sport they had never tried their, well, hands on.

A team from the sports department of the local government had visited the school as part of the Mission XI Million (MXIM), a programme jointly being driven by FIFA and the Government of India. The programme is looking to get 11 million boys and girls excited about football ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which begins in the first week of October.

One of 88 students, Nauri Nag cycles for an hour to reach the school. Sandhya Chugti and Nandi Nag studying in the same school come from Marangda village nearby. Education is their only hope for a better life ahead.  After school they also work in their agricultural fields, to lend a helping hand to the family.

At the only all-girls school in the district, Principal Tigga decided to set the ball rolling. Soon the girls were participating in the MXIM Festival in Ranchi. They say that they really enjoyed playing the sport at the Games Village in Ranchi.

They loved the sport so much that soon the girls joined hands to make a football field for themselves at the school.

Khunti is nearly 30 kilometres from the state capital, Ranchi, and has produced a few champions in another sport that India has been known for – hockey. Nikki Pradhan was part of the women’s team for the Rio Olympics in 2016, the first woman from the state to don the national colours. She is just one of them since Jaipal Singh led India to their first Olympic gold in 1928, also hailing from Khunti.

MXIM is hoping that the children of the sleepy town will soon have more than just hockey players to celebrate about.