Conveying Tradition to Nepalese Kids through Soccer

(Photo via Everest Times)

(Photo via Everest Times)

Funchowk, Richard and Karshang Sherpa are 13 years old now. If they were in their ancestral home in the Solukhumbu disctrict of Nepal, they would be planning to conquer the peaks of mountains. Sherpas are usually associated with mountains, not only in Nepal, but all over the world. But, these Sherpa children are planning a new world to conquer – the world of soccer.

Born in the Kathmandu district of Nepal, Mingmar Tashi, 13, has been living in New York for four years. He usually watches soccer matches on television. His favorite team is Real Madrid of Spain and his favorite player is Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ayush Karki, 13, has lived in New York for five years and also loves soccer. He wants to be a professional soccer player.

Like Ayush and the others, there are lots of Nepalese-American children who are trying to find their future in this game. In this endeavor, the United Sherpa Association Inc., also known as Sherpa Kyidug, is supporting them. Sherpa Kyidug is a nonprofit organization based in Elmhurst, Queens, which encourages and facilitates the active involvement of the younger generation in community activities in order to transfer the cultural norms, values, and knowledge of Nepal to future generations. [As the organization’s web site notes, Sherpa is not only a last name it is also the name of an indigenous Nepalese community.]

Sherpa Kyidug has been offering soccer training to more than 100 children for the last three years and has created a team to play in the local youth league.

The Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) is a popular organization “promoting and enhancing the soccer game for the youth of Eastern New York between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, and to encourage the healthy development of youth players.” According to its official website, enysoccer.com, “all levels of soccer are offered for the recreational player who is out to enjoy the game and ‘just have fun,’ the club or travel team player who enjoys the spirit of competition and the premier player who is looking to play at the highest levels.” ENYYSA has more than “120,000 players and more than 25,000 volunteers. Members are affiliated with 10 leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81.”

Metrokids Interregional Soccer League is one of the leagues in which Sherpa Kyidug has its four teams of three different age groups participate. One team each of under-14 and under-12 are participating, and two under-10 teams are participating. Sherpa Kyidug is playing several friendly matches with local soccer teams to prepare for the league matches that start from next month.

Soccer as a way to preserve culture

Sherpa Kyidug was established to preserve the language, religion and culture of the Sherpas living in the U.S. The second generation living in the USA presents a challenge, and indeed not only Sherpas but all Nepalese face this challenge.

For those who came to the USA at a very young age and for those born here, the Sherpa Kyidug has used soccer as a way of teaching about origins and traditions.

“Together with fun, we are uniting children and giving them knowledge of Nepali culture through the United Sherpa Association Youth Soccer, which we started in 2013,” said both the coaches Ang Sangbu Sherpa and Chhiring Namgyel Sherpa.

Both of them had played in leagues while in Nepal. Clad in jerseys of Tushal Club of Bouddha, Kathmandu, the duo are amongst the main initiators of the soccer program.

“We were in a meeting discussing how to bring Nepalese children together and how to impart them with knowledge of our culture, when we realized that they are not so willing to attend programs. However, they are interested in sports. Then we started this plan,” said Sangbu.

He added, “As they go on playing, they might make a career in soccer in America. If not, they are at least coming together getting to know each other. Last year they happily participated in the celebration of Buddha Jayanti – the birthday of Lord Gautam Buddha, Light of Asia. Before that, some of the children did not even know what Buddha Jayanti means. This way we are spreading knowledge on Nepalese culture and festivals.”

According to Chhiring, in the initial days some of the children were not even interested in soccer. However this is no longer a problem now.

“In the beginning, we took our own kids to the soccer field, and other children hardly showed up. But nowadays, the situation is different. When we say we are not willing today, they will try to convince us to go and play. Not only Sherpas, we have players from different communities of Nepal. All these children have great fun together. Every week on Sundays, throughout the year, we are doing the training,” said Chhiring.

Starting with only two coaches, now they have increased to six. Payment for coaching and renting of the field is paid by the parents of the participating children.

This is the first time the Sherpa Kyidug team is participating in the American Soccer League.

“We do not have any ambitious plans. Let’s see how we go ahead. We have showed them a way. Schools here have soccer. Commercial clubs here select players from college teams as well as for their academy. Our primary goal is to help our children make it to their school teams. Our main purpose has always been to create an environment for Nepalese children to meet,” said Ang Sangbu about their plan. “It was a daunting task to make it to where we are today. Now the children need immense support from their parents in order to be able to continue and make themselves good enough for the international level,” said Chhiring.

Funchowk, Richard and Karsang know neither Nepali nor the Sherpa language. They say participating in this soccer team has increased their curiosity about Nepal and the Nepalese.

“Last year in April, many lost their lives in the earthquake in Nepal. We prayed for their souls before we played our games. Earlier we were children of only a couple of families. Now we feel we are Nepalese. We are getting to know each other very well. We have great respect for our origin and culture,” said Karsang.

Tendi Sherpa who has come to the ground accompanying his kids, also was happy. “When they are at home, they are always playing video games. When they are here in the field, they do physical exercise, they make friends, and they also get to learn about society. This is very important.”

Likewise, Mingma Tendi Lama also wishes her children will continue playing soccer. “My son did karate. Now he is into soccer as well. There is career scope in sports here. Besides, it refreshes your mind and helps you improve in your studies.”

“Since soccer is a very disciplined game, this program can pave a way for the Nepalese children to go on to high school and college level teams,” says parent Lhakpa Rinji Sherpa.

Ayush Karki seems to be a very excited player on the team. “It is very difficult. My father wants me to play only for exercise and fun. He tells me not be overambitious about soccer. But I want to continue soccer together with my studies.”

Funchowk, Richard and Karsang, in an answer to a question about whether as Sherpas they would like to go climb Mount Everest, say, “Right now our priority is our studies. We have to make a career here…So we have to get ready for our future first. We will not make mountain climbing our career, but why not try it as our hobby.”

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