Tuesday, January 27

Every smiling face

Yesterday, I wrote about how sport helps transcend boundaries. Today it played out before me in spectacular fashion.

I woke up early today to attend the Magic Bus  session. I was a little nervous and my perennial stubble/ beard was the first to take a hit. A dear friend of mine, Siddharth Menon, architect, sports lover, and humanitarian, was accompanying me to see the kids. Reaching Dadar with 25 minutes to spare, we were hopelessly lost, much to our and our hosts despair. We finally found the distinctly red Sai Swamy Vayam Mandir and seeing the white t-shirts with Magic Bus emblazoned on them meant, we had arrived.

The inner circle
First things first, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a closed room the children were in. They were merrily gathered in the open field that is Shivaji Park. While a whole military parade practiced for the upcoming Republic Day, 21 children listened intently to their bubbly, confident and charismatic mentor, Manohar. Sandhya from Magic Bus welcomed me and before I knew it I was part of the circle playing a curious game called Introduce Yourself.

It took just one Dabaang-inspired-move to get everyone to join in and chime out my name. As I laughed at the hilarity of watching 20 small kids turn up their imaginary collars and strut to the centre of the circle saying – Hi my name is Kaustubh Khade - in imitation of me, I realised that in that small act, I’d already been accepted. Everything after that ran as smooth as a hot knife through butter.

Manohar was running a small game to gauge the kids’ attentiveness and from the screams of delight, it was going very well. Barely had Sandhya started on telling me about the programme that our attention was diverted to a much more pressing issue. The kids were divided into teams and were about to start their practice game for the inter-zonal Magic Bus football tournament. It was naturally of paramount importance to play for a team. 

And old friendships were turned into rivalries as Sid was chosen to play for the blue team and I was playing for the whites. As in any game of football this one was particularly important and I was chided early by my young captain for letting Sid past me, a cheeky nutmeg I inquired very sternly about later. I hate letting any team down and I resolved to do better against Sid later.

Manohar conducting. Kids engaging
The excitement was palpable and my side found its feet very fast. Some deft passing and clinical finishing from our forwards put us 2-0 up in no time. As anyone in football will know, goal celebrations are everything and I was blown away with how inclusive they were in my team. Everyone high-fived everyone and I would be lying if it didn’t melt my heart when the smallest girl on our team, would smile the shyest smile, run over with both hands in the air for her high-fives. Everyone contributed and our defender Jyoti made me smile a proud smile when she cleared a clear run from the opposition and then asked me, ‘Was that good?’; more than you know lil’ one.

Everything was a blank slate. And all that mattered was the moment. Falling on your knees, shrugging it off, and getting back to the game became commonplace. The team urged me to attack and score some goals, but I chose to play the playmaker role, lest the blues feel cheated in practice. There was a time though when the build-up play left me with the ball in front of the keeper and I lobbed it in. And I turned to look for my team, and they came rushing in. Much excitement followed. And all the familiar feelings of winning as a team came rushing back.

Aboard the bus
As one team came off to make space for the other, Manohar ran the kids through the technicalities of the game and what constitutes a clean game. There was much happening, and I was caught between the kids repeating after their mentor, the engaging game going on, where Sid was conducting his side’s defences, and Sandhya’s effervescent answers to my many questions. I was immersed and it felt good.

Right after we played some teamwork games and while we all played for points, one could clearly see how teamwork and understanding, and taking defeat magnanimously, was the purpose. Everyone laughed and discussed strategy and played their part. When our white team lost, the victorious yellow team shook hands and was taught to say ‘well played’. If everyone in real life were like this, the world would be a better place, no?

While Sid was busy discussing the details of Magic Bus, I was busy being dragged from one group to another and playing with the children. I would not have known we had spent two hours there were it not for the phone calls and list of emails I’d so easily ignored. Right after the programme, we boarded the Magic Bus bus. Sandhya and Manohar kept us both engaged with stories on how long the programme has been run and its impact.

At Dharavi
The bus took us from Dadar to Dharavi, a place I’ve known for a while now. The idea was to visit the homes of the children and meet the parents. And it was a very rewarding experience. Magic Bus also organises for football tournaments for the parents of the children and we met with four mothers who’d played this year. Talking while washing the dishes, taking time off sewing or household chores, we met a very bubbly and alive set of mothers who clearly enjoyed being associated with Magic Bus.

While the first mother we met spoke forcefully about her matches and having to fight to win, another regaled how her son was now practicing football at the sports complex just opposite their chawl. We were told that the water lasted two hours in the morning and it explained the rush of people washing and cleaning; and that the tiling above the gutters that ran between two houses (that sufficed as a road) had been built in light of the elections. The open sewers that emptied into the khaadi had resulted in two dengue deaths and hygiene was a constant problem.

Aboard the bus with Sid
To be faced with such reality was to open one’s eyes to the Pandora’s box we so often neglect in our daily lives. As a testament to the mothers though, not a single one spoke about it. All they talked about were their children, and how they enjoyed Magic Bus; how the tournament was a welcome change in their lives; how Magic Bus would come to individual houses to ensure children stayed in schools  and learnt their lessons. There was much to be happy for, much to stay in the programme for. 

Dropouts are at a minimal and children are transitioned from the learning phase to the livelihood phase. The mothers were thankful and I sensed a great satisfaction and pleasure there. One doesn’t have to ponder too hard whether a programmme this inclusive and engaging can have long-term effects on a community. Will the next generation in Dharavi learn right from wrong by learning to respect one another on a playing field? Will the shy girl on the field find a place and be loved as we did when we won? Will they be humble in victory and strong in defeat? I believe so.

As an end note, there is much and more that we are fortunate enough to have in our lives. In conversation with the children, mothers, and the staff at Magic Bus, a lot of joy can be brought in the little things. The white t-shirt and black shorts with the Magic Bus symbol depicts a symbol of unity and hope here. 

I urge you to support the cause. Please come forth and visit the centres. Find out for yourself. So I request you to visit the page -  and be generous.

When I was being introduced, one of the Magic Bus  staff said – he is helping raise funds for the cause. I feel a great sense of pride in it. I know you will too.

Read the original article.

Monday, January 12

Who said a young person cannot be a great leader?- Meet Ravinder, Magic Bus Community Youth Leader from Telangana

Ravinder, 22, found his calling when he saw children living in abject poverty in his neighbourhood at Kothwalpalle, Telangana. ‘We were much better off than most of our neighbours. But, it was their plight that bothered me. “I felt I was wasting my time in school. I wanted to jump into community service as soon as I completed school, but my village and filial responsibilities prevented me for a long time”.

Ravinder convening a session.
Ravinder’s family is among the few economically better-off families in Kothwalpalle. They own a restaurant which earns them a decent living. “People often saw me as the son who would take our family’s restaurant to new heights. However, sitting aimlessly and managing business at the restaurant was hardly my ambition. I knew I had to work towards the betterment of my community”, he recounts. Ravinder’s anger against the nonchalance of the local administration towards the poor in his community was searing within him. He knew that till he had to find a platform to make their voices heard.

Magic Bus began its operations in the community from 2011.

However, it took almost a year to mobilize the community completely. Ravinder participated in the community meetings organised by Magic Bus to understand the programme but, was skeptical. He felt unsure of the sport-for-development curriculum. 

“How could sport bring about a definitive change to a child’s life?” he would often wonder. However, after several deliberations, he was convinced by the intent of helping children break out of poverty; it resonated with his.

Ravinder(in white), with Magic Bus Community Youth Leaders.
Ravinder joined Magic Bus as a Community Youth Leader in 2012 when he was 19 years of age. He was a key player in mobilising children in the community. He would participate in door-to-door enrollment drives, organise meetings with the parents and also help in improvising the curriculum to suit the ethos of Kothwalpalle. Magic Bus gave him all forms of support as he set out to relieve his community from the clutches of poverty.

“Magic Bus was my confidence booster. I felt its power when I started to see minor changes within my community. I could see young girls and boys were playing and learning together!” says Ravinder.

Politics was never his forte, yet, Magic Bus’s team of Community Youth Leaders in Kothwalpalle and Youth Mentor Laxman, encouraged him to stand for the elections of the Sarpanch(community leader) in the village. Ravinder was unsure at first but finally filed his nomination. 

He didn’t know how to ask for votes but his goal was clear and singular: relieve the children in his community from excruciating poverty. “I can never thank Laxman enough for his unparalleled support throughout the election. He helped me draft my agenda and mobilize people for the polling day when I was away working with the children”, shares Ravinder.

But what worked was his immense popularity in his neighbourhood supported by the credibility of the work he had done with the children. With a thumping majority, he became the youngest Sarpanch of the state.

Ravinder is a youth moved with a vision of freeing his community from the clutches of poverty. He also symbolizes the immense potential that the youth of this country have in bringing about change.

On National Youth Day, let us support efforts to nurture more such youth leaders. Donate NOW!

Wednesday, January 7

Breaking the poverty cycle: Nagma's story

Meet Nagma, Magic Bus Peer Leader, who fought against all odds to pursue a life of her choice - to be a footballer.

I am Nagma. I am 19-years-old.  
This is Darukhana, an area of Mazgaon in the shinning city of Mumbai. It is popularly known for its Ship breaking and Ironworks industries and is packed with dingy tin go-downs, narrow lanes, and factories. I was born and raised here!
As a child, I was never allowed to step outside my house. The streets were not considered to be "safe" for girls in our locality. But, how safe is one's own house, I wonder? I was abused, tortured and beaten at what was supposedly my home.
 I didn't want to get married like other girls of my community. I wanted to lead a life of purpose.
When I turned 16, my parents refused to support my studies further. Just when I thought I had to give up my dreams, Magic Bus came along, and with it, the opportunity to be a Peer Leader within my community.
I grew up learning that the playground was a man's domain. After joining Magic Bus, I realised that it could be mine as well. I play for the Magic Bus' football team. It gave me a new lease of life.
After becoming Magic Bus Peer Leader, I joined Senior College for a Bachelors degree in Science. I don't lead a simple life; there are difficulties, but there is a purpose.  
I come from a very humble background. But, my friends never make me feel less in any way. They are my support system.
My parents had only dreamt of traveling in an airplane; I felt so proud when I sat in one and observed the world below me.
This is my family. I often feel that we lost out on a lot of time as a family due to the need to keep the kitchen fire burning. It is my desire to bring back that time.

Support the dreams of more children like Nagma. Donate Now!

Friday, January 2

When courage triumphed: Shubham’s story

Shubham, 18, lay in his bed at Safdarjung Hospital surrounded by a stack of books. Time and again, he would flip through books as the medicines kept the pain away. A battle raged in his mind as he feverishly tried to remember facts and figures, afraid of the time when the medicines’ effect would no longer keep the pain at bay.

Not long ago, on a different occasion, he felt similarly embattled. 

Shubham lost his father to an accident at the latter’s workplace, the construction site where he was a labourer. After his father’s death, the family plunged into a severe economic crisis. As the eldest son, Shubham decided to stop going to school and start working. “I could not stand to see my mother bearing the burden all on her own, working tirelessly in a wax-candle factory”, he recounts. 

He didn’t get the time to act on his decision. 

Shubham, preparing for his final examinations.
Magic Bus had just begun its sessions in Sultanpuri of north-west Delhi. The area, notorious for its high crime rates, was also home to Shubham and thousands of families like his. Shubham was introduced to Mamta, Magic Bus Youth Mentor (YM) as a bright child who needed guidance, both emotionally and academically. He volunteered to be a Community Youth Leader (CYL) and came to realize that his decision to drop out would not have helped his family in the long run.

“There are moments in your life when you need advice – if you get a good one your life goes on the right track. Thankfully, I found mentors in Magic Bus who showed me how wrong I was to think of discontinuing education”, he explains.

Just when everyone had their hopes pinned on Shubham’s ability to get a suitable job, situations changed. On his way from school, Shubham met with an accident as he tried to cross the hitherto familiar Nangloi railway line, to reach home. The steel of the buckle of his bag shone in the sun and blinded him to the oncoming train.

When he opened his eyes, he saw his family around his bed. He also noticed that he could no longer feel his legs. They had to be amputated.

“The physical pain overpowered the realisation that I could no longer walk on my own”, he shares.

But, with this came another challenge: Shubham’s school refused to let him appear for his higher secondary examinations. He was considered not “fit” enough to study further and write exams. Not even Mukesh, the Training and Monitoring Officer (TMO) at Magic Bus, or Shubham’s mother could persuade the school’s principal to change his mind. But, they didn’t give up.

Nor did Shubham; it was not the first time he had been embattled. TMO Mukesh and YM Mamta took the issue to the deputy director of education of Central Board for Secondary Education, Ms. Rashmi Gehlot. Ms. Gehlot appreciated the incessant help that Magic Bus was lending to Shubham and took his case seriously. She immediately contacted the principal and demanded an explanation. Shubham got his seat back.

Shubham, sharing a lighter moment with his mother.
“Shubham is a child prodigy. He is mentally solid. He has the strength to turn the worst situations in his life to his advantage”, says Mukesh proudly. 

We’re often weakened by the enormity of problems facing us. We become doubtful of our abilities to make it through, afraid of failing, and skeptical of success. It’s then that we turn to people like Shubham - to inspire the strength of belief and the hope of courage.

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