50 days ago – I set out on my journey, with trepidation. A journey into the unknown, a journey full of challenges, more internal than external, a journey into the ‘World of Difference’.
My assigned NGO partner was Magic Bus and I was to be stationed at their Vishakhapatnam (also known as Vizag) district office in Andhra Pradesh, which turned out to be my home away from home until the end of February.
Being a sports aficionado, my joy knew no bounds when in my very first interaction with Sandhya, the State Head of Magic Bus at Andhra Pradesh, she explained the Sports for Development programme to me and how Magic Bus uses sports as a medium to impart life skills to marginalised children and young adults. This vital input made me pack my football shoes as well!
Sports is a universal favourite with kids and at every Magic Bus session that I attended (I must have attended at least about 30 of them) it worked like a magnet. The children would arrive well before the Magic Bus Community Youth Leader (CYL) to start the session. One could not have found a better medium to connect with children.
What I found very interesting is the concept of CYLs devised by Magic Bus. These are volunteers who administer the sessions in the field and hail from the local communities where Magic Bus conducts its programme. With about 3000 CYLs in Andhra Pradesh and still growing, I was extremely curious to understand as to what attracted these young volunteers to Magic Bus.
I found the answer when I attended a local sports event that was being conducted by the Magic Bus team at a Government School in Islampet, about 35 kms from Vizag. This entire programme was devised, coordinated and executed by the CYLs under the close supervision and monitoring by the Magic Bus team. Speaking to a few of them was a revelation. They told me that being a CYL gives them a higher “social standing” within their community am among peers. When their friends are whiling away their time, these mentors keep the Magic Bus children engaged and teach them about life skills. This is a huge success among the parents who look upon the mentors as responsible individuals. Some of them also shared that being a CYL has opened the doors to a work opportunity with local corporations, the school Head Master and the community decision-makers, which would not have happened if they were not associated with Magic Bus.
However, the common thread that all the CYLs had was the opportunity that Magic Bus was creating for them to give it back to their society.
Another fascinating feature that I discovered in the Magic Bus sessions was the use of ‘cheap & cheerful’ games. I had never imagined that a regular game of dodge-ball or KhoKho or Football could be modified so beautifully that the children could play and learn with ease. Experiential Learning as it is called in Magic Bus. This is perhaps one of the key reasons that the programme cost of Magic Bus is so low-as low as Rs. 1200 per child per annum.
The de-briefing sessions that the CYLs conduct with the Magic Bus children after the games are over is a well laid out process. By connecting the games with life skill messages and again linking them to instances back at their home, Magic Bus has ensured that the intended message is delivered- straight and simple.
The ‘Corporate like’ organisational hierarchy in the Magic Bus programme team starting with a State Head, District Head & all the way till the CYL is probably the reason why their operations on the ground are sowell structured, delivered and monitored. This hierarchy has ensured that decision making is decentralized but yet accountable without slowing down the programme implementation.
Of the many communities that I visited, the one that will stay etched in my memory for a long time to come was the visit to the ‘old city’ in Hyderabad. Given the political, religious and other local challenges here, I was astonished to see the way Magic Bus has been accepted by the community.
By: Sreekrishnan Manjeri
Vodafone India Foundation