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Sports Program Helps Children Overcome Despair Of Poverty

Game On: Explore 5 Playful Pedagogical Approaches

Magic Bus won the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2004. This time around, we bring you an article from our Founder-CEO Matthew Spacie, that recently featured in the Development Marketplace blog.

Parvati Pujari, 21, is training to be a football coach. When she is not playing football, Parvati works at Magic Bus as a mentor. She is also completing a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the Mumbai University.

What makes all this special is that Parvati is from one of Mumbai’s 4 million extremely poor families who live on less than INR 592 – (USD 11.9) per person, per month. Her parents were constructions workers in Mumbai, helping build a five star Mall in central Mumbai. After construction finished, they moved into one 8 x 12 foot temporary room which floods every monsoon. “Our living condition is such that we get to see all seasons at close quarters,” says Parvati. Parvati’s family consists of nine people, making it difficult to make sure everyone gets enough to eat. “We mostly make do with a khichdi [rice and lentils],” she says.

What changed for Parvati was her belief in her own power to change her own – and her family’s – future by making sure she used every opportunity that was available in the system, but not used. Parvati completed school even as her girl friends were married off as children. While her peers were struggling with premature pregnancies and its attendant morbidity, Parvati was taking activity-and sport-based coaching classes for younger children, taking a job, working on her football course, and traveling abroad to raise funds for Magic Bus.

In the twelve years she has spent with Magic Bus, Parvati has demonstrated what is possible, even for the very poor to do to break out of poverty.

Magic Bus – The Need: In a country where over 400 million people are below the poverty line, it’s absolutely crucial that we work on the systemic issues to enhance the opportunities for people to access. Poverty and the attendant lack of opportunity is an extremely complex equation that no one organization or initiative can solve on its own. People, policies and practices need to come together to create solutions that stay.
Magic Bus, a Development Marketplace winner, believes that given the right opportunities, children can exercise their choice in order to gain control over their lives, their future.

Starting out: Magic Bus gained this perspective slowly over the first ten years of its existence in Mumbai as a sport for development organization. Matthew Spacie, the Founder of Magic Bus, noted that the development sector came with two challenges built into the way it was organized. First, the sector was not able to create great institutions, partly because of poor remuneration and cultural barriers. Second, and perhaps more important, the attempts at dealing with poverty and the lack of opportunity are somewhat disconnected. In other words, the sector desperately needs a consolidated approach to create a holistic solution, together.

Four hundred million living below the poverty line in India are matched by three and a half million non-profit organizations. This works out to one NGO for every 400 people. And yet, there are sixty million more people living in poverty now that there were 20 years ago. It’s apparent that the prolific increase in non-profits has not added up to desired levels of social impact.

Magic Bus – the Model: With this insight, Magic Bus works towards a model of change centered on self development, which integrates seamlessly into existing local government and non-governmental initiatives. To do this, we provide community role models who ensure equal access to education and health services. Our eight year mentoring program connects confident young people directly into the workplace, higher education, or training opportunities. To achieve this, we use a sport- and activity-based curriculum that pulls in children at an early age and takes them through 40 sessions – or 80 hours – of activities designed to bring about behavior changes and attitudinal shifts.

The use of sport as a mentoring program is deliberate. Unlike other methods of communicating change, the use of sport to communicate key messages around gender equality, the importance of a formal education, and health results in better retention and better translation into practice. Because of the format, which is based on fun, children hardly ever drop out of our program.

All these sessions take place under the guidance of a trained coach, who is an unpaid volunteer drawn from the same community as the program.This way, the program is owned by the community, rather than us para-trooping in staff to ‘solve’ their problems. Not surprisingly, the drop-out rate of these volunteers – who now number 6,000 - is at an incredible rate of 2% per year.

To strengthen this core work, Magic Bus runs two initiatives – one for the parents, who come and experiences the benefits of activity- and sport-based learning for themselves and in the process become the strongest enthusiasts of the program’s benefits for their children; and a second one for children who are 17+, and are looking for livelihood and higher studies options. The livelihoods wing of Magic Bus, which we call “Connect”, works with children who have been part of the program to develop leadership skills and expand career options, including the necessary soft skills and expertise needed for occupations of their choice. Parvati, for instance, was linked to a football coaching course and a job option, since her priorities were football and a monthly income, in that order.

Partnerships: Magic Bus acts as an aggregator in bringing agencies and institutions together. We actively advocate and promote alliances with the government to further common goals on a reciprocal basis. Our current government partners include the Panchayati Yuva Khel Evam Krida Abhiyan (PYKKA), and the Lakshmibai National University of Physical Education (LNUPE) in delivering training programs on sport for development. Magic Bus is also represented as a member in the Planning Commission, Government of India.

Future Plans: Over the next four years Magic Bus will scale up to reach 1,000,000 children per week. It will need 1506 million Rupees ($25 million) to do so.
The original article by Matthew Spacie is available at the World Bank Development Marketplace blog. Write to him with your comments and feedback.

Check out a cool video of Magic Bus in action.