On a Saturday, in the year 1999, a group of children living in a slum cluster of Mumbai climbed onto a bus.
The destination they were headed for were the beaches and the hills on the city’s outskirts. It was going to be a day away from the harshness of their life in the slums, a day when they could be free and part of a team. For the children, it was more than just a day out. It was an opportunity for change. It was a ride on the ‘Magic Bus’.
Matthew Spacie, the then COO of Cox and Kings in Mumbai, was also with them. Months before this day, while playing rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana, he noticed a group of boys, hanging around its premises, watching the game with interest. He called them over to hop the fence and play some rugby. Their games became a routine, quickly, and over the next few months, Matthew began coaching them as a team.
The effect of these training sessions, on the boys, was remarkable. Being part of a team inspired them to aim higher. They went back to school, enrolled in vocational courses and became mentors for younger children in their community.
“A couple of things really struck me early on,” Matthew explains. “Firstly, there were tremendous amounts of infrastructure and services focused on education, but schools sat empty. Secondly, there was a great deficit of organisations focusing on sustainable livelihoods.”
As he noticed a gap in the service that NGOs were providing, Matthew appointed the boys from his rugby training, to gather other boys and girls from their communities, for weekend activity camps.
In those camps, under the sun, in the energy and laughter of children who were not only playing a game but also learning life skills, Magic Bus was born.
Matthew quit his job and moved full time to Magic Bus, because he believed sports could create remarkable changes in the lives of children. He devoted all his time to expanding its reach. The organisation which used to focus on only rugby, quickly changed to include a variety of sports, including football, cricket and kabbadi.
Over the past 20 years, Magic Bus has expanded, first to 3,000 children in Mumbai and then over 370,000 across India. The charity has grown substantially. However, its essence remains the same as it did on that first Saturday in 1999.