Anirban Ghosh has been helping children from low-income challenging communities to shape their own future by using sports as a catalyst for social change. In a quick chat between classes, he shares with us his journey so far and how sports has changed the lives of several young minds in the urban slums areas of Delhi.
During the initial months at the Teach for India Fellowship, I was grappling with the hows and whats of education inside an extremely challenging context of a government school in SangamVihar, one of Asia’s largest unauthorised settlements.
Despite 12 years of schooling in a government school, I was unable to grapple with the current classroom experience of these 30 girls who were now my students. No desks or benches. Just textbooks. 7 long hours of sitting on the ground, try to cope with ‘ academics’. I found a new sense of appreciation for my teachers and the privileges I’ve had. I took up the challenge of finding new ways to engage with these children; get them interested in learning and expressing themselves without any reservation.
It all started with playing a game of football in class. You can call it football in a box with an oversized team. During the break or before study hours, the classroom would become our playground. This made the children look forward to attending school and made them more attentive during class hours. They were able to focus better, do the allotted assignments faster, and were cheerful throughout the day.
Building the Team
The ‘new’ curriculum was working perfectly. It was obvious that football has the potential to be an effective medium for empowering these young women. I connected with other fellows who were experimenting with sports as a medium of engagement in their respective schools. Together, we decided to create a platform through which children can PLAY. PERFORM. PROSPER. Thus, the Khel Khel Mein (KKM) Foundation was born.
We founded KKM with the vision to promote education by bringing about a culture of sports in the communities that we worked with. For the first two years (2013-15), we organised multiple sports leagues including a 4-month league supported by European football giants Paris-Saint-Germain. KKM was registered as a non-profit in 2015 and slowly transitioned into a holistic sports program. Currently, we operate in three communities of Delhi across schools & after school spaces involving approx. 600 children.
Stories of Change
One of the brightest girls at our Sangam Vihar Program, Raziya first participated in a KKM League in 2014. Her team may have lost the finals, but her performance was commendable. Raziya’s interest in football took a leap when she joined the KKM after-school program. Initially she faced resistance from her parents who were against sending her for practices and training. But Raziya never gave up. She adapted, improvised and persisted. One of the most silent girls in the group, she let her game speak for her. Hailing from a conservative social community in Delhi, Raziya now represents the State at the national championship U16 category. She recently was also selected for the Delhi Sub Junior Girls team to participate in the Nationals in Cuttak, Orissa. She aspires to play for the country by 2021 and represent India at the World Cup.
Pooja is another success story that bloomed from KKM. Pooja used to accompany her sister for practices and always watched the game silently from the bylines. One day she asked “ Main bhi khel lu?” (Can I play as well?). Since then there has been no looking back. Within 3 months of training, Pooja emerged to be the fittest player onboard. Always ready to learn new tactics, she was the first choice for the goalkeeper’s position. From a shy hesitant kid, Pooja now leads her team that bagged the runners-up trophy at Kickstart Womens League (U21 League). Pooja has learned to balance her studies and passion for football beautifully. Without a drop in her grades, she aims to pursue her education at the Jesus & Mary College (JMC) as they are believed to be one of the few institutions where women sports is a strong part of their culture.
The success of his program so far has proven that sports can boost the enthusiasm levels of children and improve school attendance if implemented as part of a child’s education. Sports is an underrated tool that can improve the lives of future generations, while improving the status of our country as a whole.
If this is the difference sports has made in the lives of a few girls from urban slum areas in Delhi, imagine the change it can bring about to children across the country.