Meet Franz Gastler, founder of Yuwa

Through soccer and school, Yuwa empowers girls to discover their self-worth for a brighter future in one of the world’s most challenging regions: Jharkhand, India.

When Franz Gastler found himself teaching English at an NGO in Jharkhand, India, in 2007, he had no idea he’d help Jharkhand’s female youth find their futures. In Jharkhand, working women—and girls—are the norm. Many are illiterate. Fifty percent drop out of school and become child brides. Thousands are trafficked each year as laborers or sex workers. They’re denied a future, simply because of their gender.

If you don’t know your self-worth, then you’ve got no defense against all the things that might come at you. When girls know their worth, they’re limitless.

Franz Gastler, founder of Yuwa

Changing lives with soccer

One day, Franz asked a group of girls what they liked to do for fun. Soccer, said one. It turned out she didn’t play, but wanted to, so he told her to round up some friends and he’d teach her.

With that promise, Yuwa (“youth” in Hindi) was born. The field became a place for them to meet, compete, and go after goals together, using team sports to build character, confidence, and courage. What started as a program for girls who didn’t yet know their worth turned into one of the largest girls’ soccer programs in the country—and it keeps on growing. The program has tripled in size over the past three years, with a roster of nearly 500 players and 40-some coaches, the vast majority of whom are women. “We’re in a place where women and girls are just sort of swept aside, and they’re not really citizens in their own communities,” says Franz. “For them to be part of a community where they feel like they have worth is extremely powerful—it’s life-changing.” But to truly shift society, the girls needed (and still need) more than soccer—they needed an education.

Girls from Jharkhand India gathering together for a football match
Jharkhand Girls walking back after a football match
Franz Gastler in Jharkhand teaching girls with their Microsoft computer
Girls playing football while the sun sets
Two girls bumping sides during a football match in India

“Through football, these girls get a community. And through that community, they’ve gained courage; they’ve gained confidence.” - Franz Gastler

“When girls know their worth, they’re limitless.” - Franz Gastler

To truly shift society, the girls needed more than soccer—they needed an education.

"I am an exception in my village because I don’t sit quietly and let wrong things happen. I speak out. I am seen as a fighter." - Rinki, Yuwa School student

"The poverty of my family made me realize that with good education, I might not face problems like my parents." - Renu, Yuwa School student

Empowering girls through education

In 2015, the answer came: Yuwa School. Together with his wife, Rose, Franz raised more than $100,000 to found the school,which is currently run out of a rented facility. Today, the school serves a maximum capacity of 94 pupils and has a long waitlist for its classes, many of which are taught by educators from Harvard, Yale, MIT, and some of the best universities in India.

Through football these girls get a community and through that positive community they’ve gained courage; they’ve gained confidence.

Franz on the effects of a positive community
Yuwa School students in the classroom learning
Yuwa School student giving a class presentation

In 2020, Yuwa School will have the first generation of graduated students, many of whom are already well on their way to bright futures with the help of Franz and Rose, who are helping them navigate the world of higher education. Three Yuwa students are recipients of the State Department–funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) scholarship program, in which secondary school students from significant Muslim populations spend one academic year in the United States. One student, Renu, is currently at Yale—she made honor roll with a near-perfect 4.0. Another student is participating in a summer program at Cambridge; yet another will climb Mount Baker and spend the summer in Alaska as part of a University of Oregon program. For Yuwa girls, success is a common story.

The next generation of Yuwa girls

But to empower even more girls, Yuwa School needs a new home, and both Franz and Rose are working diligently on raising funds to build the new campus that will also serve as a temporary home for girls at risk.

Franz Gastler - Yuwa School founder

Be a part of the Yuwa story

Want to empower even more Yuwa girls to discover their worth? Get involved with Yuwa. From skipping your daily latte to pledging your birthday to dedicating some extra time to fundraising efforts, there’s a way for everyone to participate.

Microsoft supports Yuwa’s mission, and has partnered with Yuwa over the years to encourage and build up the next generation of girls. In 2017, Yuwa participated in Microsoft’s annual Hackathon to build a tracking and predictive app to better understand how girls were progressing through the program and ensure they were focused on their futures. Yuwa also worked with the Microsoft Edge team to develop a new website to support the new-school fundraiser. An internal giving campaign within Microsoft allowed employees to donate to Yuwa directly, and when the school is built, Microsoft will have an ongoing investment in providing digital inclusion for the girls at Yuwa School that empowers them to continue shaping their own futures. Jharkhand is a dangerous place to be a girl, but thanks to Yuwa, the future is becoming brighter for many.