Sports and play are almost instantly tied to the notion of childhood. Through play children explore, invent and create. They also develop social skills, learn to express their emotions, and gain confidence about their own capabilities. Yet, for many children the chance to learn and grow through sport and play is unavailable, robbing them of some of the most important experiences of childhood. Children throughout the world are naturally drawn to sport and play, engaging all children, even the poorest and most marginalized, to have fun and enjoy their childhood.Besides being a fundamental right, sport and play has a unique power to attract, educate, mobilize and inspire. Sports, competitive or otherwise, has been part of the social and cultural fabric of Indian society. We know of the sporting prowess of our legends, be it cricket, archery, wrestling, badminton or even athletics. We recognise only fleetingly, other sports and their impact on millions of lives. And yet, in modern India sports as an organised, value adding activity is almost absent. While we lag behind the rest of the world not only in medals in international sports, but also in fostering a culture of participation and physical activity, here are some organizations leading the way in demonstrating that #playmatters, for every child.
Magic bus, a pioneer in the area of sports for development works to move children out of poverty by nurturing them from childhood through adulthood using sports as a medium to create behaviour change. With a strong belief in the power of sport, Magic Bus focuses on young children and adolescents and, through its curriculum, seeks to address objectives relating to the right to play, formal education, gender, health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, and socio-emotional learning. The organization’s idea is to engage with children through various sports and provide them the opportunity to learn about having more control and choice in their lives. Children are also taught life skills and are given exposure to better opportunities, which in turn helps them in getting out of the vicious circle of poverty. This sports based life skills program for marginalised children recruits and trains youth volunteers from the community to manage the program. These youth volunteers aka community sports coaches serve as mentors and conduct weekly sessions with children to bring about the desired behaviour change over a period of 3 years. These youth volunteers also engage with the community regularly to build a social environment that is child friendly and supportive towards education, gender and health issues affecting children. Magic Bus is also working with juvenile delinquents providing them the much needed space to express themselves and channelize their energies into more creative pursuits. Today, Magic Bus leverages government resources and shares its knowledge with other organizations to promote the concept of sports for development.
Founded in 2009, Yuwa is pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by girls in a state notorious for illiteracy, human trafficking and child marriage, through the medium of football. This Jharkand based project has revolutionised the lives of underprivileged tribal youth, especially girls between the age of 5 and 17 years. A Yuwa girls journey is nothing short of inspiring. When a girl organizes or joins a Yuwa team, through positive peer pressure she becomes a more regular student. Players elect team captains who keep track of school attendance, and many girls attend daily study sessions too. She pays attention to her own health and to the health of her teammates. She marries when she chooses—she and her coaches meether parents to discuss her options beyond an early marriage. She begins to take her future into her own hands. The Yuwa girls are rewriting their future, getting prepared to address gender issues prevalent in their communities, attending school, understanding and learnings about their rights and their body, becoming confident and independent and changing the bleak statistics of their state. From fighting for their birth ceritifcates to receive passports to go to Spain, being shamed for wearing jerseys and sports gear, today their sporting and academic success wins support at home and gives them the courage to tell their parents they want to delay marriage. Today, not a single girl on the Yuwa team has married below the age of 18, the girls aspire to become doctors, lawyers and judges, and Yuwa has one of the largest girls’ football program in India, that has represented the country at international tournaments.
Apnalaya strives to improve lives of the poor by addressing areas of education, healthcare and empowerment. It works specifically with communities and vulnerable children living in slums in Govandi, Mumbai. As an implementation partner of the Parivartna project (ICRW), it leverages the critical role of cricket coaches as role models in the lives of adolescent boys and trains them to promote gender equitable attitudes among young athletes, aged between10-16 years. This community-based cricket program, talks to the boys on a daily basis on topics covering respect, ethics, gender norms, gender-based violence, showing a substantial positive change amongst the attitudes of these boys. Additionally, young men with leadership qualities are trained also, to act as mentors to sensitize adolescent boys. Apnalaya also conducts programmes to provide life skills training to youth who in turn mentor adolescent girls through the sport of kabaddi.
Under the project Child and Youth Development Programme (CYDP) – run in association with the Delhi Police’s Yuva Foundation – this initiative uses sport as a sustainable medium for social development, to impart vocational training among underprivileged children. Football link works with all children, to take them away from a life of risk and build a space where they can use the sport as a leveller and not as something which categorises and separates them further. They also use sport to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. This is done by weaning away youngadults and under-privileged children from taking to crime for want of educational facilities or employment opportunities. The programme, first implemented in areas falling under select police stations in Delhi, has seen huge success, resulting in an increase in the number of police stations that now wish to initiate such sport-centric CYDPs. There exist studies documenting the success of exploiting sports as a viable tool to rehabilitate juveniles and as a diversion from anti-social and criminal activities, proven by the Football link project. A four point program is used to ensure the effectiveness of Football link: Educate —identifying high-risk children and organizing mini presentations to educate them on the benefits of football. Link—CSR initiatives, grants and donations through an online platform to contribute to the on-ground football projects. Provide— a fun and exciting environment for children to play football while learning valuable social skills. Evaluate—monthly research is conducted to evaluate the short & long term benefits and shortcomings of this project. In coming years, The Football Link aims at imparting moral, ethical and social values to and creating a safe and progressive environment for 8000+ children and youth across Delhi.
The NAZ foundation has been working on HIV/AIDS, sexual health and adolescent girl empowerment since 1994. Naz promotes awareness of HIV prevention and provides support with utmost sensitivity and confidentiality to those afflicted with the disease. NAZ foundation launched Project Goal in 2006 and reached out to adolescent girls living in urban settings through the sport of netball and life skills education, which empowers girls to make informed decisions and develop the necessary communication skills and self confidence to negotiate for themselves, life skills such as financial literacy, health awareness, rights education, strong communication and team work. The 3 year curriculum of Project Goal includes personal empowerment, social empowerment (training girls to become leaders) and economic empowerment (vocational and life skill training to take on jobs). The sport of netball takes the girls out of their normal environments and creates an atmosphere for effective training sessions on topics such as leadership, communication and health. Goal’s approach has seen success in the reduction of school dropout rates seen in programs of other traditional NGO’s that educate about these topics in a classroom style. Through its experience in Goal, Naz India has built its capacity to identify, select and train groups of girls who have shown high enthusiasm and leadership potential; these girls are groomed to become trainers for their peers, thus ensuring the sustainability of Goal, and also, helping the girls become change agents of tomorrow.
Project KHEL is a unique program that uses a mix of “Sports for Development” and “Life-skills Education”, helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds grow into responsible and contributing members of society. Sports require and teach discipline, confidence, team-work, patience, tolerance, etc. which are essential components of life skills. Sports also help prevent children from engaging in anti-social behaviour by steering their energy into activities which are fun and productive. KHEL partners with organizations working with orphans, street children, slum children, village children, children in shelters and children of migrant and domestic labour in UP, and engages them in a bi-weekly interaction a period of atleast 4 months. The sessions are based on experiential and activity-based learning models where the children are encouraged to discover and express the learning from the session, on their own, through a discussion at the end of each session. These sessions help children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, build their sense of personal worth and agency, and teach them to interact with others constructively and effectively. In addition, special thematic sessions are also conducted on issues such as health, sanitation, substance abuse, personal hygiene, civic sense, and sexual abuse. Apart from using sports as a platform for imparting Life Skills Education, Project KHEL also strives to bring back traditional Indian games. Recently introduced into their curriculum are games of Kho Kho, Pitthu and Rumaal Kabaddi. KHEL had also organized the 19th SubJunior State Basketball tournament in Lucknow and Charity Football Night Tournament.
Slum Soccer began based on the simple philosophy of ‘Football for All’. Most organizations working with the sport as a change agent emphasise on development through sport as their focus, but Slum Soccer aims to find middle ground by ensuring that while seeking the benefits that sport offers to community development, development of the sport itself is not neglected. Slum Soccer’s core program ‘football coaching’ aims to develop sporting and life skills of participants between the ages of 8-18 years through a curriculum of football integrated with learning. The curriculum is customised to suit local social conditions and address a range of topics from education and gender to HIV and employability. A core focus of the program is leadership development, facilitated by allowing seasoned players to assume positions of responsibility. These sessions conducted over 3 years ensure community engagement resulting in a buy-in from parents and greater retention of youth. These youth leaders progress upward to become coaches, educators or maybe even part of the Slum Soccer team. Based in Nagpur, Slum Soccer also organises local, state and national level tournaments to select the team that represents India at the Homeless World Cup (HWC).
Khelo is about taking sporting opportunity to socially disadvantaged communities, most of whom would not normally have any chance to take part in any organised sporting activity. Working in communities where there is typically have no access to any organised sport they rugby as a safe non-threatening way to develop a relationship with the children and their families, giving children the chance to play and learn together in a safe and coach controlled environment. Incubated in 12 communities across Kolkata where children benefit from weekly coaching, the Khelo Rugby program is now working with children in the Siliguri area of North Bengal, Dumka in Jharkhand, Chennai and Bangalore. Along with sport they introduce the children to some basic key social messages that are often not taught, such as road safety, the health benefits of good hygiene, the dangers from mosquitoes, etc. As they get the children more and the places they come from, the programme works out support they need both as individuals (for example through scholarships or health access) and as communities (by organising clean ups or other community initiatives). Khelo Rugby is not about finding the next great sporting superstars but giving children the chance to spend time with a good coach who is also a mentor able to support their growth and development. Through Rubgy, the project aims to bring up good and responsible citizens, making a positive impact on their societies.