Faster, higher, stronger
“When I kick a football in the air, everyone gravitates towards it. But how do you take this idea and change lives?”
Matthew Spacie, the founder of Magic Bus India Foundation, believes that playing a game has the power to transform lives. This has been illustrated by real-life examples of many children. Be it the sport of football or cricket or swimming, it holds the ability to grab a child's attention and impart life lessons at the same time. India has many such stories. From Saktheshwari of the Slum Children Sports Talents Education Development Society (SCSTEDS), Chennai, to Krishna, a swimmer from Gujarat, from Gaganjyot Singh of Rurka Kalan, Punjab to Prachi Meshram of Nagpur, the lives of some young people have been transformed by sports.
Saktheshwari: 21 years old, Tamil Nadu
Saktheshwari's father was an alcoholic and her mother used to wash dishes in a hotel. She has three sisters.
"When I was in the 11th and 12th standard, I showed great promise in football and secured a seat for BA in Biotechnology. I've also represented India in France at the Homeless World Cup. Football gives us identity and recognition.”
Dileepan: 16 years old, Tamil Nadu
Dileepan lives in a slum in Chennai called Kutty Brazil. Football mania is palpable in the area.
“The locality that I come from is known for its criminals. That has changed a lot after we started playing football. I have become a role model for all the younger boys. To play football, you have to be a warrior, a soldier. That is why we chose football. We wanted to show our mettle.”
Hema Chari: 22 years old, Madhya Pradesh
Hema grew up in an ashram where they she was trained in various sports. Hema has a black belt and has played kabaddi at the national level.
“Considering today’s environment, martial arts is very important for women because it makes them self-reliant and fearless. Sports helps us in being of healthy mind and body.”
Prachi Meshram: 18 years old, Maharashtra
Prachi joined Slum Soccer when she was a child. Her father works in Maharashtra State Electricity Board and her mother is a housewife.
"Since I have joined Slum Soccer, I am more aware of things. They say that if you educate one woman, you educate a whole family. Similarly if a girl has knowledge and plays a sport, she can take her community forward.”
Atul Khandagle: 17 years old, Maharashtra
Atul was born and brought up in Mumbai. The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) approached him to attend the Parivartan programme which uses cricket to teach life lessons.
“Earlier we used to tease girls and pass comments about them, but now we realize that it was not a good thing to do. All this was taught through a game of cricket, by analyzing the language that we use on the field. Now, we behave well both on and off the field. We have realized that mardangi (masculinity) is not everything.”
Sushmita Jadhav: 17 years old, Maharashtra
Sushmita joined Magic Bus when she was just 10 years old.
“After playing football and being a part of the Magic Bus sessions on hygiene and education, I have become a confident and independent girl who can go anywhere and travel to any part of the world.”
Gaganjyot Singh: 14 years old, Punjab
Gaganjyot has been playing football with Rurka Kalan's Youth Football Club for the last eight years.
“I have learnt a lot through football. Through playing I have learnt some important lessons. I know I should respect my elders, shouldn’t speak badly about anyone and shouldn’t do drugs."
Krishna: 17 years old, Gujarat
Krishna belongs to Pratappur, a small village in Gujarat, 150 kilometres from Ahmedabad.
“I like swimming because we stay healthy and there are many new styles to learn. Now I know back stroke, breast stroke, freestyle and butterfly stroke. I feel really good about swimming and going for these competitions, because everyone (in my village) is now curious about me and knows me now!”
Ehsan Ansari: 24 years old, Maharashtra
At the age of 15, Ehsan heard about Magic Bus and enrolled in the NGO’s football and life skills training.
"The game taught me important lessons. From passing and receiving, I learnt about interdependence. Also, since I was working in the day and studying at night, I learned time management. I learnt how to make time for school, tuitions, studying and games."
Homkant Ramkrishna Surandase: 24 years old, Maharashtra
Homkant has played Slum Soccer since 2006. He belongs to a village in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra.
"No one gave much importance to football in our village. I was irregular at school and did not have much interest in academics. My life gained a new direction because of Slum Soccer. Now I want to become a coach because I want to bring about a change among others like me."