As a mother, do you know what I pray for most for my twins Rengpa and Nainai? That they lead a happy, free and healthy life. Health is the key to success. If we are healthy, there are immense possibilities before us. The mind is capable of magic, but we need physical stamina and energy to transform this magic into reality. As a sportswoman, I can tell you with conviction that there is no better route to health than robust physical activity.Where I come from, and where my children are growing up, nature is all around us. It’s a common sight to see children racing down hills, playing in the rain, chasing each other through fields, or walking through the meadows to school. Rarely would you come across a child howling because of a scraped knee or a hurt elbow. Kids grow into strong, sturdy people with lots of physical energy and stamina. I attribute this glory of well-being to the region’s open spaces and grounds that allow us to grow up in the midst of nature. Following my recent Olympic win, I had the good fortune of traveling across the country where I saw kids playing on roads with traffic zipping past them. I went to schools with one concrete building and not even a compound, leave alone a playground. High-rise apartment blocks were surrounded by roads but had no access to gardens or grounds. This lack of open playgrounds has amazed me. How must little children feel, being confined in closed spaces with no outlets for their immense physical energy? Children usually play in open spaces – parks, playgrounds, backyards – not in balconies, corridors or worse-streets. As more villages become towns, more towns become cities and cities explode into metropolises, do we want our children to spend their childhood in jail? Playgrounds allow for imagination to grow – and with it creativity comes alive. Open playgrounds are a world where every child is an equal, with access to everything. They are often the first spaces that unearth hidden talents and sporting geniuses. Watch kids race, wrestle, box and scramble, all in fun, and you will know what reflexes your child uses the most and to best effect. School playgrounds are where first trophies and medals are won, where talents are spotted and groomed. Imagine our land without the delight of such fertile grooming spaces and the loss it means for children and childhood. Why can’t we as mothers demand playgrounds as a right to free living and an expression of childhood? We should insist that schools are not schools without open playgrounds. We need to collaboratively build a movement to reclaim our children’s right. We as parents, communities and responsible adults can give direction to this movement.I urge you all to look at play not as a waste of time, but as a necessity. Playing encourages children to participate, socialize, cooperate and team up. It allows them to experiment with situations, toughening them up physically and mentally. Play allows children to get away from drudgery of daily routine, to mingle with other kids, explore and enjoy their differences and similarities and grow up to be healthy confident adults Indeed this would be the best gift we can give our children.
An extract of an article published by the Times of India on August 29, 2012.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more Mandela powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” – Nelson MandelaCan cricket and football, hockey and athletics, swimming and wrestling change the lives of children? Yes. Sport and play can no longer be considered a luxury within any society, rather an important investment in the present and future, particularly in developing countries. Here are 5 impressive stories of children battling their circumstances, telling us that #playmatters for their childhood.
1. Moving the goalposts – Kusum Kumari
“I want to feel free like the boys!” said Kusum, as she delivered her talk at TEDx in Mumbai at the age of 13. The auditorium was packed, her delivery was flawless and her voice never faltered. She shined.Coming from a rural village in Jharkhand, Kusum had never read a English book chapter before. Kusum Kumari had no great agenda in mind when she started playing football aged 9, near her home. She just wanted to have fun. Now 16, she is pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by girls in a state notorious for human trafficking and child marriage. With the support of Yuwa, an NGO that uses girls’ team sports as a platform for social development, Kumari and her team-mates have challenged the widely held idea that girls belong at home. They have gained recognition in their community and on football pitches abroad. “Before I joined Yuwa, I did go to school – but at that time I was not going every day,” says Kumari, whose sister dropped out of school to get married when she was about 15. Kumari says she began focusing on her studies after meeting women through Yuwa who had pursued careers as diverse as journalism and hair-styling.Her parents are subsistence farmers, her elder brother works as a driver in Ranchi, and her sister is married. Her parents, were very suportive when she started playing football and was chosen to go to Spain. However, This parental support was not always a given, and still isn’t. When Yuwa began in 2009, most parents were not ready to let their daughters out to play. Who will help them with housework? With the cooking? With working in the fields? Or more disquieting concerns: What if the girls are trafficked? Kusum has fought against many odds, being a girl and growing up in Jharkhand. Her house got electricity just over a year back, but that did not stop her from topping her class, being a bit of a math whiz, and a feisty footballer. She plans to attend university so that she can become a social worker and help other girls. “I’ll teach them that education is very important, and I will tell them: ‘If you want to play any sport, that will help you to understand things.’”
2. On a plane to Durham – Rupesh Borade
From the age of 6, Rupesh Borade has been living in a children’s home in Mumbai with the trauma of having seen his mother being burnt alive by his father who went on to commit suicide. What changed this 16-year-old’s life — like that of 31 others between the ages of 14-16 at the home in Chembur’s Anushakti Nagar — was a visit by Mumbai’s former opening batsman Sahil Kukreja in 2012 to mark his late father’s birth anniversary.Rupesh had never boarded a flight before in his life. But last year, after rigorous training and hard work, he was selected for a cricket scholarship with Durham University in England, thanks largely to the efforts of Cricket Beyond Boundaries (CBB), a charity that has been facilitating short-term exposure trips for young and promising cricketers from India, and Sahil Kukreja.Back at the home where he lived, the other children were motivated and given a new dream with Rupesh’s example. Today, access to sport, guidance and opportunities, Rupesh has better memories to the treasure for the rest of his life.
3. Child labourer to Bengal team captain – Bhima Chettri
Bhima Chettri was a victim of child labour not too long ago. Today, she is representing Bengal in hockey and even captain of the state’s Under-14 girls’ team. Bhima, a resident of Rimbick in Darjeeling, was 7 years when she had been sent to Kalimpong, about 100km away, under the pretext that she was being sent to school, when actually she was to help a family with their domestic chores. Life was difficult for her until 2012, when she received help from Bal Suraksha Abhiyan Trust, an organization working against child labour in Kalimpong. Bhima’s employers were approached and convinced that they were doing the wrong thing. Thereafter, Bhima was sheltered at a home run by the trust and sent to St.Micheal’s school in Darjeeling.That’s where Bhima played hockey for the first time, and it changed her life forever. From being selected for the team to being made captain of the Bengal team at the 61stNational school games, her journey at such a young age changed only due to her introduction to sports.Today, studying in class 8, she visits her family once in a while, that comprises her parents, four sisters and five brothers. Hockey continues to provide hope in her life everyday, but she wants to join the police instead of building in a career in hockey, so that all the evils of society can be ended. She believes that the police can do a lot but in many cases they look the other way.
4. From Odisha Slums To Train With Bayern Munich – Chandan Nayak
A child who grew up in the Sabar Sahi slum of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, 11 year old Chandan made big news recently. Selected to be training with football legends at Bayern Munich Football Club, one of the world’s top football academies and clubs for two whole months, Chandan is probably the youngest in the crowd of 14-16 year-old teenagers.Chandan comes from a broken family. His father had deserted him at a very young age. His mother works as domestic help at various places and is just about managing the family. She has sacrificed a lot to ensure that her children are brought up in a proper way. Chandan’s love for football got him selected amongst 70-80 other street children. His biggest challenge however was sufficient nutrition to be able to perform well, increase his strength and build his fitness, which was difficult to do given the fact that the only meal available to him was the mid-day meal in school. Chandan coming from a poor family stands as a sign of bravery having fought against all odds, proving his talent.Chandan doesn’t speak English but had a few words to add in Hindi and Odiya. “I am very excited to go to Germany and I promise to beat every strong player there. I want to learn everything I can and represent India in the best way possible. I will play well and study hard also,” he said. It is stories like Chandan’s that will inspire other children form such backgrounds to enter sports and take it up as a discipline.
5. With HIV, to the Children’s Olympics – Babu Seenapa
Babu’s story is the story of a child sports champion advocating for a winning attitude among HIV-infected children. Babu hails from a small village in Hoskote taluk from Karnataka in India. 15, male and a marathon runner, there are two things that are most striking about Babu. The first is the conviction he carries in his gait. And the second is the fact that he was born with HIV and orphaned at an early age. For the first time in the history of Children’s Olympics in 2015, two HIV positive children participated, Babu being one of them.Babu’s parents died when he was just six and his aunt brought him in the year 2008 to Sneha Home Care, a residential facility in Sarjapur, Bangalore run by Sneha Charitable Trust (SCT) for HIV infected children. He spent eight years in Sneha Care Home and now lives in Snehagram, Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, a residential facility for children above the age of 14 run by the same trust.Sneha Care Home and Snehagram together have cushioned the hardship-filled lives of vulnerable children who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS- either they are left orphaned by parents who died of HIV/AIDS and/or are HIV positive themselves. Snehagram mentors these children to excel in academics, sports and other extra- curricular activities, imparts life skills and vocational training and builds leadership skills besides laying emphasis on their nutrition, health and ART adherence. It gives them avenues to achieve good health while giving them the infrastructure and support to realize their life aspirations and think beyond just HIV.Babu talks about the harrowing days following his parents’ death and the hope he regained after he was brought to the care of Snehadaan/Snehagram. In his own words, Babu sums up the value of the change Snehagram brings in the life of the children it protects, educates, cares and nurtures –“After my parents’ death, coping with dejection and ill-treatment from other family members who harboured misunderstandings and myths about HIV and its transmission, was one of the biggest challenges for me…Snehagram moved me away from my home and the suppression there after my parents’ death and changed me from an ordinary child who didn’t think much to a child who has leadership skills, experience of having served as the Prime Minister for two terms in the Child Parliament, and aspirations to touch the sky. The International Children’s Games is the sky I want to touch.” His brave approach got him rare applauds at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia last year where he gave a talk on Children with HIV and their life as an adolescent. Babu’s representation at the Children’s Olympics in Netherlands has motivated other HIV infected children to take on sports too.
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.
Sports and play has the power to stir imaginations and raise spirits, fight illnesses and challenge age old mindsets, bridge divides and foster friendships, test human potential and drive human achievement. When children don’t play or indulge in physical activity, they lose more than the simple joy of having fun in childhood; they lose valuable skills that playing sports can bring to their lives; and they lose the chance to explore, learn, thrive and grow into well rounded adults. For every child that doesn’t fulfil his right to play and sports, our nation falls a step short in achieving its development goals. Here’s a listicle of children’s issues that get striked out when children play. #playmatters
1. Learning through play
Children and adolescents benefit tremendously from physical activity. Schools are an ideal place to provide opportunities for sport, recreation and play. In turn, play improves the quality of education by developing the whole child, not just their academic capabilities. Research indicates a positive correlation between sport and increased attendance levels, improved behaviour and a boost in academic achievement. Free play improves concentration in the classroom and physical activity doubles the probability of better achievement in language and math. Combined with a school curriculum, play and sport are a must for quality education.
2. Play for Health
Regular participation in sport and play provides many health benefits- physical, mental and social well being . Not only does it have a direct impact on physical fitness but it also instils healthy lifestyle choices among children and adolescents such as refraining from alcohol, tobacco and other intoxicants and adopting safe sexual behaviour; it reduces anxiety, enhances psychological health, builds trusting relationships with peers and mentors and promotes adoption of healthy behaviours. Promoting physical activity from a young age can contribute to improving public health on a large scale.
3. Girls and Goal posts.
Given that sports is traditionally a male domain, girls’ participation in sport itself challenges gender stereotypes, breaking deep-rooted attitudes held by families & communities. Sport provides girls with safe spaces to assemble, enjoy unrestricted movement and freedom of expression; it hones their skills in communication, leadership, negotiation and in building supportive networks; playing alongside boys increases self-esteem, confidence and generally improves their agency in making informed choice. Girls participating in sports are less likely to imbibe substances, enter violent relationships or become unwillingly pregnant. Sports and play also provides a space to openly discuss and dialogue on tabooed topics and empower girls by addressing larger social issues through sport. Girls who are sidelined claim their place in society.
4. Play for peace
In times of conflict and emergencies, sport and play can provide children and adolescents with a sense of hope and normalcy. It helps traumatized children learn to cope, heal, develop trust, and gain resilience.Sports and play creates a safe environment to learn in the absence of formal school structures. It also acts as a therapeutic tool for children to address damage done due to constant exposure to violence, decrease aggressiveness, anxiety, fear and negative behaviours. Through sports and play children are encouraged to rebuild a normal life.
5. Levelling the playfield
Sport and play can help to break down barriers and promote inclusion of children who are often left on the sidelines. It fosters participation and social inclusion by enhancing individual capacity, developing one’s strengths despite physical and mental challenges, reaching children that are often excluded and discriminated against. Evidence of groups working with excluded communities suggest that sport helps children with disabilities, out of school children and adolescent girls gain confidence that they can then apply to other aspects of their lives. When the focus is on scoring a goal or shooting a basket, children’s abilities become important, not their disabilities.
6. Practice for life
Sports and play facilitates the development of life skills needed to translate knowledge, attitude and intentions into actual behaviour. It assists adolescents develop important skills, such as problem-solving, decision-making, communication and critical thinking. It helps them handle peer pressure and cope with emotions and stress and gain much needed resilience as they transition into adulthood building their confidence in themselves and their future.
7. Play to participate and integrate
Sport in its most basic form encourages participation. When children fulfil their right to play or sport they also fulfil their right to participation. On the playground, a child is encouraged to share his opinion and views, take a stand, interact with peers from different backgrounds, work as a team and integrate into a social group. Active participation in sports and play instills a sense of belonging, acceptance and achievement, while also evolving a child’s capacity to recognise their role in their own lives.