Friday, December 19

Arming the youth with attitude set for success

In just over a decade, a quarter of a billion people will be added to the working population of India. "Imagine the entire working population of the US being added to India's current labour pool by 2030! That's how many people we are talking about," says Dr Surinder Kapur from the Sona Group, which runs a successful skill development initiative with Magic Bus.
Magic Bus works on a model it calls ‘childhood to livelihood’

"The big worry here is this: Only 20% of Indian school-goers finish high school, many drop out because basics — food, clothes, the wherewithal to access available opportunities — are out of reach," he adds.
In India, without education, it's very tough for the extremely poor to find dignifiedemployment and move out of poverty. And a very large number are extremely poor: a third of Indians earn just $1.25 (about Rs79) per day today.
Magic Bus's answer to make them job-ready has been simple: the organisation works from within to change their behaviour and arm them with an attitude that is set for success. As behaviour change is not something that happens overnight, they invest early and for the long-term to make this happen, basing their inputs on what they call a 'childhood to livelihood' model.
And that's why, they say, partnerships are so important. "We can't do this on our own," says Matthew Spacie, Magic Bus's founder and chairperson. "Strategic, long-term partners, such as the Sona Group, OAGN and Cleartrip, help in implementing this by breaking down our goal into achievable targets so that children and youth have the learning and connections they need to be ready for the job markets of the future."
"The other important part of this is creating a group of supporters who will literally cheer children on this journey from childhood towards dignified livelihoods as adults," says Superna Motwane, who, along with samaritans Shreyasi Goenka, Samantha Nayar and Sunaina Murthy, helps organise one of Mumbai's best-known charity auction and dinner events for this cause. "Issues such as poverty and unemployment are so complex and specialised that the average interested donor is disengaged even before s/he can take the first step in being part of the change."
Motwane and her fellow committee members have taken upon themselves to create an engaging, attractive way in which major priviledged donors and corporate houses can be part of social change projects. "The Magic Bus Benefit Dinner and Auction that we hold every year is how we take a serious, development-related cause to the familiar turf of a high-end event so that people can understand the issue even while remaining within a context they are used to," she adds.
What makes such an engagement possible is the sheer variety of donors who pitch in, contributing a range of exclusive products and services that are expertly curated and bundled by the hand-picked committee to create auction lots that are a must-have.
"For instance, we thought of an auction lot that packs in a range of exclusive sports events that patrons can watch from their own VIP boxes with friends or family, complemented by five-star service and hotel stays," says Motwane.
Complementing the auction itself are sponsorships. The title sponsor Sona Group supports Magic Bus not just by picking up a large portion of the event costs but also by running a skill development programme for Magic Bus youth.
"What's most important is that each entity can be part of the change for India's youth," says Motwane. "Whether you are someone with time, money, or resources at your disposal, we can find creative ways to put whatever you can give to good use."
For the original article, read here.
Image source: DNA

Thursday, December 11

Scripting Change

Read about a Magic Bus Youth Mentor, who overcame all odds to become a leader in her community, mentoring 813 children.

When 23-year-old Mamta opted to become Magic Bus’ Community Youth Leader at Sultanpuri in north-west Delhi, she was aware of the odds stacked against her. For starters, the community barely recognized her as a leader because she was a woman with a polio-affected leg.

But, battling against odds was nothing new to her.
Mamta handing out a prize to one of her session participants
At the young age of 2 years, Mamta was diagnosed with polio which paralysed her left leg. What it couldn’t affect was her zeal for sports. She was good with handball but did not get an opportunity to play. “Persistence pays off. I conduct handball sessions for children now whereas in school, I was never selected to be a part of any team“, she reflects.

At the age of 17, she lost her father to an accident and also the hope to pursue higher education. “I was married off when I was in the eleventh standard”, she laments. Mamta shifted to small village in Haryana after marriage. “I secretly filled the form for the twelfth standard examination and cleared it with a distinction”, she adds with pride. Within a year of marriage, Mamta had a son. However, due to frequent trouble with her in-laws, Mamta and her husband decided to shift to Delhi.  

“Shifting to Delhi was a blessing in disguise.I was introduced to Magic Bus and I enrolled myself in Delhi University’s School of Open Learning for higher studies”, she adds.

Mamta conducting a session

In 2013, Magic Bus began its sessions at Sultanpuri. “It was one of the most challenging spaces in Delhi. None of the families were willing to send their children, especially girls, because of the high incidence of crime and drug abuse in the locality,” remembers Jeebanjyoti, District Programme Officer at Magic Bus.

“Did I know I could, one day, be able to convince the community to send their children? No, I didn’t. I just knew that it was important for girls to step outdoors and play. I wanted these girls to overcome the fear of the outside world”, explains Mamta.

She managed to overcome the community’s resistance – initially 10 families send their children. Now, she leads a group of 813 children out of which 359 are girls.  

In an era where public spaces are becoming hotspots for violence against women, sports seems to open up possibilities for women and girls to reclaim spaces lost to them.

Would you like to see more girls like Mamta emerge as leaders within their community? Donate NOW

Thursday, December 4

Out of Wed-lock: Savitri’s story of escaping child marriage

“I was just six months old when my father past away. I have seen my mother toil everyday to make ends meet”, says Savitri. 17-year-old Savitri lives in the by-lanes of Timarpur in north Delhi. Timarpur is the first government colony set up in independent India.  A rented one-bedroom house in a makeshift settlement narrates the sordid economic plight of her family.

Savitri lives with her mother in a dilapidated rented accommodation.

Savitri is a Community Youth Leader with Magic Bus from Timarpur. She has six siblings: five sisters and a brother. She comes from a family wherein child marriage is a normative practice. Two of her elder sisters were married at 15. They are both mothers and ‘happily’ married."I could have done anything to avoid this fate", says a vocally horrified Savitri. 

Her brother is employed with a private company in New Delhi. But, he does not financially support his mother. Savitri’s mother is a daily wage labourer with an average monthly income of Rs 5000/-. "My mother works very long and very hard. I want to study well and find a decent job for myself so that I can relieve my mother off her daily rut", shares Savitri.

Savitri vividly remembers the first time when Magic Bus came to her neighborhood. Arun, the Community Youth Leader, took a recee of Timarpur and spoke to the parents about Magic Bus. But, it was not easy to win support – there was a lot of resistance especially from parents who thought it was unsafe and morally unsavory to see their daughters stepping out of home and playing with boys. 

Their fears were strengthened by the fact that incidences of theft, physical and sexual assault was too common at Timarpur. "It was a difficult locality to work in. It took lots of meetings to convince parents to send their children for sessions", shares Arun.

The day when parents started sending their girls for Magic Bus sessions was a breakthrough moment in the community.

For Savitri, education is the only way to escape marriage and achieve ones dreams.

When Arun met Savitri for the first time she was visibly worried. "Her mother was searching for a groom for her. She was just 14 years then", he recollects. She begged Arun to convince her mother against this early marriage. When Arun spoke with her mother, Savitri's mother responded, "Beta (son), we can barely make ends meet. Education is not meant for us. I will marry her off and then let her new family decide if they want her to continue studying further or not’.

After weeks of regular interactions and meetings with Savitri’s mother, she agreed to send Savitri for Magic Bus sessions on a temporary basis. Savitri’s happiness knew no bounds. She knew that she could thwart all attempts to convince her to get married once she had stepped out of home.

As a Community Youth Leader, Savitri, encourages young girls and boys to join the Magic Bus programme. "Magic Bus gave me the confidence to stand up for myself and dismiss the idea of child marriage", she says with pride. She does not want girls to compromise on their dreams and helps them find a purpose to their lives.

“We are not born to be someone else’s wife!” she says emphatically.

Savitri is young and determined. She wants to become the voice of change for her community. She aspires to become a police officer, sensitive to the cause of women and girls.

To support more girls like Savitri, Donate NOW

Thursday, November 27

Breaking Barriers:Jolly Dass, Magic Bus community youth leader, shares her journey

I am Jolly. I am 20 year old and study Hindi literature at the Jesus and Mary College in  Delhi University.

This is where I live. You must not have heard of Sant Nagar in Delhi, have you? We moved in to the unauthorised settlement in 1986 in the search of a livelihood. After a lot of searching, my father joined as a cook at the a Pastor’s college with just Rs 3000 a month.

Rs 3000 (30 pounds, 48 dollars) between six people!It wasn't an easy life till my brother Rocky got a job as the youth mentor in Magic Bus.

This is my brother, Rocky. He inspired me to join Magic Bus. Actually, my left eye is dysfunctional since birth so I was sceptical whether I could go any further in sports. He encouraged me. 'It doesn't matter', he said, 'You just need to believe that in yourself.' Those words never left me in all these years.

Little did I anticipate what I was signing up for! I was a shy kid, afraid of making friends. Magic Bus changed it all. Through the journey, I came to know that I had the makings of a leader. I also understood that education is all I need to succeed in life.

When I was selected by the Equal Opportunities Cell of my college to participate in a 10-day-long conference at the King’s College, London, I was elated. The conference was on how to make education systems inclusive - something that I have felt all along in my life.In London, I saw myself speaking to a crowd for the first time, all nervousness forgotten.

I am a community youth leader with Magic Bus, now. I think all of us who live in dire poverty, or with disabilities have a possibility of discovering our own potentials, our own dreams. And that magical moment comes, when you've a mentor around - a mentor who believes in you and encourages you to believe in yourself.

I believe girls can make a difference to themselves and the world around if they are given the chance to get educated.

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Want to make a difference in the life of a child? Donate.

Thursday, November 13

The wind beneath her wings:Ruby’s Story

18-year-old Ruby’s voice breaks into a wry smile when she thinks about her life before Magic Bus. Ruby is Magic Bus’ community youth leader from Bhalaswa. Bhalaswa is a 15-year-old settlement which was formed after an eviction drive that pushed thousands of inhabitants to this slum cluster in west Delhi. Ruby’s family moved to Bhalaswa from Nizamuddin under similar circumstances. Their financial struggles worsened after they moved there since her father could not find suitable employment opportunities.

Ruby: a picture of silent resolve
Poverty is often cited as a reason why parents want their girls to get married at an early age. The reasoning is simple, "What could she do even if she got an education?" 

Such was the situation that faced Ruby. "Girls from my community were either married, or searching for grooms to get married. I was supposed to follow suit. I was in VII standard and at that moment I didn’t think I could study any further", she recounts. 

Four years ago, Magic Bus’ youth mentor spotted Ruby during a home-to-home survey. She came across as a cheerful yet determined girl who dreamt of becoming a police officer one day. Her father works as daily wage labourer. He is barely able to eke out a living for his family with a monthly income of just Rs.7000.

Ruby has three sisters and a brother. The threat of being married off as a child lurked in the minds of all her sisters. "When Mahadev bhaiya (youth mentor with Magic Bus) came to our house to convince us to join Magic Bus, my father disagreed. He believed that it was not okay for a girl to play – what would she do by learning how to play kabaddi and football", Ruby adds laughingly, "Also, he wasn’t sure if it would be safe at all". 

Discussing play strategies: Ruby with Youth Mentor Mahadev and TMO Santosh
The breakthrough came when Ruby’s father started seeing things in a different light.

After frequent interactions with Mahadev, and a visit to the sessions, Ruby’s father was finally convinced that her children would benefit from the programme. At the same time, he started believing that his daughters could progress further with education and they did not need to get married early. Thus, Ruby is now in the twelfth standard and has joined the computer classes at the Magic Bus’ Connect Center at Badli.

"The happiest moment in my life?" Ruby pauses on the question as she wades through her memories to choose the moment most dear to her. "The happiest moment in my life is when my father agreed that I could go back to school; I needn’t get married. My dreams suddenly seemed real", her voice brightens up with suppressed excitement.

After being a proactive participant in all the Magic Bus initiatives in her community, Ruby has now graduated to become a community youth leader (CYL) at Magic Bus. However, her journey as a CYL has not been an easy one. "Initially, parents would refrain from sending their children to my sessions. Being a girl and from a lower caste takes away a lot of credibility", she explains. Her grit kept her going. She spoke to parents through meetings and even invited them to her sessions. 

‘Reclaiming the right to play for girls is perhaps a step towards a gender-equal society’, Ruby 
Today, she has the entire community standing by her and looking up to her as a leader. She uses her influence in the community to spread the message of importance of educating girls and the perils of child marriage. She is now fondly called didi (sister) within her community.

Ruby aspires to become a police officer so as to crease out the rampant discrimination that women face at every step. "We lack role models in our community. I want to break that and be one myself!"

Free a girl from stereotypes and prejudices, and see her bloom into a leader. Meet our Ruby from Bhalaswa – a dreamer, a doer in every sense of the word.

Want to help many more girls like Ruby break out of gender-based stereotypes and realize their aspirations? Donate NOW

Photo credits: Nancy Farese

Friday, November 7

Rugby as a way of Life

“The magic happened 12 years ago when I was introduced to rugby,” says Ravi excitedly. “When I first saw the rugby ball, I thought it was some sort of an inflated egg!” adds Ravin, mischievously.

Meet Ravi, Magic Bus’ energetic, young trainer and a skilled rugby player, for whom sports is not just a hobby, but a way of life.

Ravi belongs to the banjara or the gypsy community. His childhood was spent in a slum in the bylanes of Colaba. His parents were daily wage labourers who worked tirelessly to make ends meet. They have never been to school.

In the field
In his words, the ‘turning point’ in his life was his introduction to Magic Bus. Here he played rugby for the first time and fell in love with the game. Such was his liking for rugby that he started taking an hour off on Sundays from work to participate in Magic Bus’ programme. ‘I wanted to involve myself as much as I could.’ With the help of Magic Bus’ youth mentor, he quit his job as a salesman and became the grounds man of the Cross Maidan where Magic Bus’ weekly programme was held. He was paid some money for the same.

Soon his single-minded dedication started reflecting on his performance. He was selected to represent India in the Indo-Pak Beyond Boundaries meet - a meet which also served as a cultural dialogue between the youth from sporting background from both the nations.  For the first time in his life, he could step out of his familiar surroundings and meet people his age but from different cultures and socio-economic groups.

In a training programme
Ravi was a key member of Magic Bus’ rugby team, the Magicians, from a very young age. He was also selected represent Maharashtra in the inter-state rugby tournament where his stellar performance won him a berth in the national side. He didn’t have a passport and therefore, could not participate in the match. Like a true sportsman, he refuses to let such disappointments come in his way. Ravi still harbours the dream to play for India in New Zealand one day.

He has dreams for his siblings as well. He doesn’t want them to struggle the way he has. So, when started working with Magic Bus in 2009 in the capacity of a youth mentor, he also began contributing to the family income and ensuring that his siblings complete their schooling.

Today, as Magic Bus Assistant Trainer Ravi reaches out on a weekly basis to nearly 50 children every week. Apart from this he also trains not just youth but even key government officials and teachers in the Sports for Development approach.

You, too, can support a youth like Ravi to break out of poverty and chart a new course in his or her life. DONATE NOW.

Thursday, October 9

Magic Bus children and Matthew Spacie gets featured in Aamir Khan hosted Satyamev Jayate tele show

Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) is a popular social commentary show which explores crucial social issues in India, looking at individual, government, and non-government efforts to address those issues, and urges people to take action.

Since the last 15 years, Magic Bus has taken a sport-based curriculum to help underprivileged children and youth break out of poverty.

Parvati, Vijay, Ritu and Gulafsha talking to Aamir Khan on Satyamev Jayate

Sports is usually associated with action, energy, strength, fitness, and excitement. Whether it's your favourite pastime or hobby, whether you are a sports person, or, simply a viewer, these words pop up in our mind when we speak of sports.

Can sports be an answer to poverty? Can sports ensure gender equality? Can it also bring about positive behavioural change?

The third season of Satyamev Jayate opened with exploring the power of sports in scripting change in people's lives. Host Aamir Khan began by reiterating the unexplored potential of sports and requested teachers and principals to give it equal importance in the curriculum. A series of interviews with people in different age groups followed, with each story revealing the tremendous potential of sports in bringing about change.

Magic Bus' interesting journey of pioneering a sports-based approach to work with poor children and youth was a major segment in the show. Four Magic Bus children, Parvati Pujari, Vijay Gupta, Ritu Pawa and Gulafsha Khan shared their stories of struggle and hope, and how it was Magic Bus' activity-based curriculum that encouraged them to get out of their situation and get educated, instilled in them a sense of confidence and discipline, and helped them transcend the deeply-gendered public-private spaces.

Parvati and Gulafsha are the first graduate within their family and community, and Parvati being the eldest at 21 in the group of four is now pursuing a professional career, and is a global fundraiser for children living in poverty. Despite their humble beginnings, each of them are leaders in their own right.

Read the stories of Parvati, Gulafsha, and Ritu.

Their confidence and fearlessness impressed Aamir and viewers alike. Their stories inspired admiration.

Next, Aamir welcomed Matthew Spacie, Founder and Executive Chairman of Magic Bus, to explain the thought behind the approach and it's early days. Matthew went back to the days he used to play rugby at the posh Bombay Gymkhana. A few boys from the adjoining Fashion Street were in charge of parking the cars of rugby players who played at the Gymkhana. Their interest in the game was evident but they could only watch it from the sidelines. One day Matthew thought of teaching them rugby.

During their training, he saw some remarkable changes in them - they had become unusually disciplined and punctual, and would try to cooperate with each other, and not fight. He also discovered that sports unified them all; in the field they were simply players and not members of different religious communities. Here was an answer to a whole host of problems plaguing Indian society!

Matthew Spacie telling Aamir Khan the Magic Bus story on Satyamev Jayate

Matthew connected the young boys to avenues of employment since most of them were from extremely poor households. But, none of them managed to hold onto their jobs. This made him acutely aware of the importance of sports early on, so that, children from poorer households could learn crucial life skills that would help them get better employment and opportunities.

At present, Magic Bus brings the transforming power of sports in the lives of 250,000 children within 20 states across India. The success of its approach is evident in the fact that 90 percent of children associated with Magic Bus are first-generation learners. 10,000 child and youth leaders in the programme work conscientiously to bring about change in their respective communities.

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