Two of Spainís star hockey players score a goal for Anantapur

The border town of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh may be thousands of kilometres from Spain, but it is very close to the hearts of Andreu Enrich and Santiago Freixa, two of Spain's star hockey players. For, it is home to "Stick for India", their project to encourage hockey in rural areas.

It all began about four years back, when Enrich, after the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai, decided to travel to Anantapur to meet a boy he had sponsored through the Rural Development Trust (RDT), an NGO. It was then that he felt the need to do something more for the underprivileged children in the area.

"I was 21 then, and the only thing I knew was hockey. So my idea was to create a hockey school for the children of Anantapur with my best friend Santi Freixa, and the support of RDT," Enrich told The Indian Express from Madrid.

So, Enrich, a midfielder who was part of Spain's winning team during the Champions Trophy in 2004, teamed up with Freixa, their star-striker who has twice been adjudged European Player of the Year, to set up "Stick for India".

What started off as occasional camps to introduce hockey to the children has now developed into a full-fledged programme. The project, backed by the RDT, now includes a hostel and hockey academy which is spread over 40 acres and has around 25 boys. While the main focus is on hockey training, the academy also funds the children's education till Class XII, even arranging private tuitions when needed.

Social development

"Stick for India's mission is to use sport for social development," said Freixa, who made his first visit to the academy earlier this month. "Our main target is to create a solid structure to develop hockey and train players in the area. Sports can teach youngsters many things, like team work, staying healthy, communication skills and also helps develop emotional intelligence," Enrich added.

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