Khel Khel mein

Devina Sarwatay

A recent UNICEF and Barça Foundation report, ‘Understanding the evidence for child-focused sport for development’, features beautiful pictures of children playing. There is happiness and enjoyment, determination and focus on the faces of these young people photographed in India and other places like Athens, Kenya, Congo, Laos, Paraguay, Barcelona, Ecuador, and Nepal. This report gives evidence that participation in sport can aid children’s learning and education, skill development, empowerment, leadership and self-esteem, contributing to their overall well-being and future prospects. Sport can also be used to help foster social inclusion and child protection. Government schools in India have also started focusing on sports for children’s overall development as reported in newspapers like The Times of India1. However, all government schools do not necessarily come with infrastructure and teachers, or are losing out on these due to several factors like cost cutting and encroachment problems, among others, as reported in articles in The New Indian Express2 and The Financial Express3. While some government schools with their teachers and students make the best of waste and use recycled products to create their own vibrant playgrounds4, certain not-for-profit organizations also do their bit for children. One such organization, the Yacht Club of Hyderabad (YCH) and its initiative, ‘Dignity Through Sports’ are featured here.

The founder of YCH, Mr Suheim Sheikh, set it up on 5th June 2009, on the occasion of World Environment Day. The club focuses on children from government schools in Hyderabad who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Children from nearby government schools were initial participants at the YCH and it has recently opened its doors to other students who want to learn sailing. Due to the training they received here, many have gone on to win championships at the regional and national levels5. Additionally, time spent by young people at the YCH ‘Dignity Through Sports’ social responsibility initiative, has contributed to their overall development. Not only does the sailing infrastructure push students towards physical education leading to personality development, additional services like counselling, medical aid, bicycles and funding for education are also provided to them. However, the most important impact is delineated below through case studies6 of young people who have grown with the YCH.

Winners of the Sailing Team, Telangana from the Yacht Club of Hyderabad win 5 medals at the Nationals and 5 at the International event including 2 Golds and 2 Silver with their coach Suheim Sheikh
As part of Project Naavika, nine girls who have trained at YCH for a few years now were profiled to understand how they benefited from the programme. Apart from the tangible benefits of getting access to good nutrition, gym for physical fitness, travelling for tournaments, and tuitions for academic help, they reported to have benefited intangibly as well, by way of gaining confidence, self-esteem, social comfort, ability to make new friends, work independently as well as in teams, becoming brave, proactive, assertive and strong among others. Some of the children learned swimming at YCH for the first time and highly praised the coaching given there for sailing. For example, when Shruti spoke to Ravali for Project Naavika case studies, Ravali said that she has gained confidence: to speak well, to perform better and to face adversities bravely. Another girl, Jeevana, recounted her experience of being knocked out by the wind and being stranded at the open sea for nearly two hours before being found. However, she said confidently, this incident didn’t scare her and she was ready to go sailing the very next day!

Due to participation in various competitions and tournaments, almost all the girls said that there was an improvement in their attention, observation, thinking and decision-making skills. Lalitha, a 15-year-old with three years of sailing experience at YCH, has won four medals and plans to become a sailing champion or an artist. Her improvement in the above mentioned skills has been phenomenal as per the Naavika programme coordinator, Surekha Dhatrak, who said that Lalitha no longer hesitates during conversations and has developed a quick response time. Overall, everyone interviewed for the case studies reported to seeing positive changes in their personality like becoming brave and appreciating the importance of being heard and respected. It seems like we have some evidence of sport for development here as well.

The team from Telangana comprised 59 sailors during the recently concluded 2018 Nationals
Despite the focus on employability by the YCH7, and the expectation of many teenagers that they will get a job through this initiative, there was very little clarity among the young girls on how it would actually happen. One belief was the access to better education will help them score well in exams as well as certificates from sailing competitions will help them while applying for higher education institutions through the sports quota. Another belief was that becoming sailing champions would lead them to get government jobs for sportspersons. And these pre-teen and teenage girls coming from families surviving on monthly incomes between INR 8,000 to 16,000 were surely on their way to glory! Many had more than one tournament win under their kitty and were aspiring to win other national and international championships. The YCH is certainly playing an active role in the improvement of these children’s condition and, with the help of corporate funding, they keep upgrading their facilities and organize regattas for the young people to compete in and get a platform for growth and development. In YouTube videos profiling their work, the founder of YCH, Sheikh, mentioned how they have quickly become one of the largest competitors in the country and are growing every year. He said that they’d recently won five medals each at the nationals in Chennai and the India International Regatta. One of the boys with the YCH, Jaikiran Bolli, is a 15-year-old who is currently ranked India #3. He said it was through YCH that he got to participate in four nationals. Another student who was also featured in the Project Naavika case studies, Lakshmi Nookarathnam, a 14-year-old girl praised Sheikh’s coaching and how he gave them confidence to do well in these tournaments. She also mentioned that she has participated in four nationals as YCH takes care of their nutrition and fitness as well as how some of them have been shifted from government to private schools to improve their studies. Sheikh said he started this initiative to specifically give access to children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to sports and especially an exotic one like sailing. He has also added some international coaches to the YCH to give the children more experience in competitive sailing.

So, can exposure to sports lead to a holistic education? Based on these cases and what the YCH has achieved, an emphatic yes is the answer! From results like winning medals and trophies in sailing, to becoming an above average student in school due to academic support, YCH’s initiative of social responsibility – ‘Dignity Through Sports’ – has demonstrated the importance of physical education in children’s life and holistic progress. It also alludes to young people’s social inclusion because training happens simultaneously for children and adolescents from all socio-economic backgrounds and this instils more confidence and even some English speaking skills in them, which is considered a huge advantage to get better education and employment opportunities. Their donor funded programmes have enabled students to join the Indian Defence Services and their Naavika programme specifically targeted at girls, has built them into more confident, empowered young women. The YCH focuses on one sport, sailing and one region, Hyderabad. There are many more children in need of earning ‘Dignity Through Sports’ with YCH, in Hyderabad, in other sports and other regions. While our urban landscape leaves little room for playgrounds for children and our rural regions struggle to enable their participation in competitions, initiatives like these give teachers, students and parents a chance to dream and aspire for a better future. Here’s to hoping we can include many more sports and regions to participate in exposing young people to sports for a holistic education!

References

  1. An article featured education officials wanting teachers to encourage admissions through sports quota in Ludhiana. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ludhiana/education-officials-want-teachers-to-encourage-admissions-through-sports-quota/articleshow/69015374.cms.
  2. Article on ‘Schools with no playground lose the race’. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2019/apr/08/schools-with-no-playground-lose-the-race-1961504.html.
  3. Article on ‘Creating schools that are functional the most basic input to improving learning outcomes’. https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/creating-schools-that-are-functional-the-most-basic-input-to-improving-learning-outcomes/1558122/.
  4. Photo story on ‘How junk turned into jungle gyms at this Mangaluru govt school’. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/pictures-how-junk-turned-jungle-gyms-mangaluru-govt-school-99471.
  5. How it all started – The Yacht Club of Hyderabad. http://theyachtclub.in/how-it-all-started.
  6. Shruti Padmanabhan of Naandi Foundation interviewed girls with YCH’s Dignity Through Sports for the Project Naavika Case Studies.
  7. Dignity Through Sports-CSR – The Yacht Club of Hyderabad. http://theyachtclub.in/dignity-through-sports-csr.

The author is a Junior Research Fellow and PhD Student at the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad. Her work is in the area of Young People and Social Media. She can be reached at [email protected].

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