For Englishman Mathew Spacieit all started in the bylanes of Mumbai's Parel area in 1999. His aim was to take children out of poverty and give them a purpose in life through sports.
Spacie's love for India, in fact, began as a 17-year-old when he took a break from his studies and worked in the Howrah Leprosy Centre in Kolkata. His next port of call was Mumbai.
Playing rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana Club, he thought he could make a difference to the lives of street and slum children through sport. Fifteen years down the line, what started as a mere distraction has grown into a massive Magic Bus, an NGO encompassing 300,000 children in 3,000 locations across 19 states.
Magic Bus is now a major initiative, taking care of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls and Spacie has big plans to convert his dream project into a sports-based volunteer force to work among the needy children in various countries.
Magic Bus' curriculum on sport for development has won national and international recognition - the latest being the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Award, which it received from President Pranab Mukherjee last week on National Sports Day. It came within five months of the organisation winning the Laureus Award, the first Indian entity to get global acclaim.
After receiving the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation Award from its chairman and champion hurdler Edwin Moses in Kuala Lumpur in March, Spacie in his acceptance speech said: "Fifteen years ago the Magic Bus was started because outside my office there were 15 street boys who one day decided that they wanted to change their journey in life.
"It is now an organisation which has 300,000 children every single week attending our programme on this amazing journey from childhood all the way to livelihood and out of poverty."
The small, humble beginning has grown into a multi-discipline non-profit organisation where the target children engaged in personality development through structured play sessions, which sought to draw them towards issues of social relevance.
"Our motive has always been to take these children away from their under-privileged lives and use sports to instill values and influence behavioural and social changes," Magic Bus CEO Pratik Kumar, who has over 24 years' experience working with the United Nations, Government of India, International NGO and private sector, told IANS.
"Sporting activities and games are structured into each session to make them fun and appealing. There are specially designed sessions to represent real-life situations and challenges so children are able to relate these back to their daily lives," said Kumar, who joined the Magic Bus in 2009.
Kumar thanked the volunteers, who he said were the actual heroes of the organisation.
"Magic Bus works with close to 8,000 trained volunteers. Community youth leaders are trained and mentored to lead young children and through these volunteer-led programmes, we have been able to expand our reach," he said.
Kumar moved quickly to quash any comparisons to Physical Education (P.E.) classes in schools.
"Yes, we do indulge in physical activity, but this is very different from P.E. classes. We use sport only as a developmental tool, a metaphor, to deliver our message of development to kids."
"Through sports we try and bring kids together and then impart lessons on a wide array of subjects, from hand washing to gender equality and more," said Kumar.
One of the biggest successes has been 'Connect' -- a supplementary programme that provides livelihood options to grown up children.
Through this programme, Magic Bus offers leadership and employability skills training as well as counselling services to help them decide on their next steps. They are then linked to further education, vocational courses, and entry opportunities into the job market.
But not resting on their laurels, Kumar wants to take the number of kids to a million in the next two/three years.
"So much more has to be done. Our ambition is to reach one million children. We have started programmes in Britain, Nepal, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and we want to grow further and do much more," said Kumar.
By: Santosh Rao