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Magic Bus CEO Pratik Kumar: "The playing field is the best learning field"

The Magic Bus India Foundation is an organization that aims to change the course of the lives of Indian children for the better, using sports as a tool. The foundation reaches out to underprivileged kids from all parts of the country, and helps them establish healthy life choices.

Pratik Kumar, the CEO of Magic Bus India Foundation, speaks here about the ‘power of play’ – how and why sports can be used as a tool for social upliftment, and how his foundation goes about that.

Pratik Kumar, the CEO of Magic Bus

Pratik Kumar, the CEO of Magic Bus

Pratik:

“Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, had once said that sport can play a role in improving the lives of not only individuals, but whole communities.

“Truly, play is a powerful medium that provides children an opportunity to learn, create and grow in an environment of fun and freedom.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children recognises the right of each child to ‘…Relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities’ (Article 31). Over the last decade, several international bodies have endorsed the usefulness of play as a medium to ensure engagement, and therefore to facilitate change at the level of the individual as well as the community.

“By its very nature, play enables stress-free and joyful participation, inclusion and development. At Magic Bus, the value of play is used by creating an atmosphere in which the playground becomes a metaphor for real life. Each session is focused on creating a joyful and safe atmosphere that ensures each child participates in an experiential learning process that is facilitated and scaffolded by an able mentor.

“Among the many rights of children, the Right to Play is that which belongs intrinsically to the domain of childhood. Its various pedagogic values are increasingly acknowledged and appreciated, but constructive uses of play as a tool for learning and development remain relatively under invested in. Partly, this is due to the fact that critical and immediate rights demand global attention – rights to education, nutrition, protection and survival all justifiably demand immediate action. This is especially so in India, where issues of gender imbalance in the sex ratio and malnourishment are two urgent inequities that the government is currently focused on.

“Magic Bus, however, believes that there is an equally urgent need to ensure that children across gender, class, race and caste barriers are given the right to safe and joyful play. For the organisation, play is a crucial right – not only in itself but also as a tool to help children access other rights. Through the use of play, Magic Bus has shown that communities, youth and children can all learn effectively, apply consistently and exercise choices that enable them to improve their lives.”

The children at Magic Bus trying their hand at tennis

The children at Magic Bus trying their hand at tennis

World scenario: Sports’ unique value as a tool for development

“The concept of Sport for Development (S4D) is rooted in the recognition that sport possesses unique attributes that enable it to contribute to development and peace processes. These attributes include the fact that its appeal is universal; because sport events offer the capacity to reach vast numbers of people, they end up being very effective. Sport transcends national, cultural, socio-economic and political boundaries, and when done right, it is enjoyable for participants and spectators alike, and can be invoked in virtually any community in the world. It thus has the ability to connect. It is an inherently social process bringing together players, teams, coaches, volunteers and spectators. So it can be used to address a broad range of social and economic challenges.

“All Magic Bus programmes are based on the pedagogy of play. Using sporting activities as the basis for engagement, sessions with youth and children enable consistent engagement over extended periods of time, thus enabling sustained learning.

“All children and youth in Magic Bus programmes experience a journey of empowerment. To start with, we build an awareness regarding the existence of choice. We then enable the use of choice, and we empower the children and youth to make sure that the choices they make are effective.

“We have seen the power of play at work in the lives of the 2,50,000 children and 8,000 young women and men we work with every week. Children are going back to school and staying there; not dropping out. Their learning is improving, their ability to relate to others in their lives is getting strengthened. They are learning an early lesson in gender equity and making sure they imbibe the qualities they would need to access dignified livelihood options when they grow up. The youth in our programmes are getting to learn skills such as how to build and work in a team, and starting to think in terms of higher education and employment opportunities.

“Never before have the uses of sports and activities for good been as visible to communities in India as they are now. When communities play themselves (we organise frequent community tournaments) they learn that the playing field is the best learning field. And at home, they are witnessing first-hand how children are changing their own behaviours and attitudes to become healthier, more progress-oriented, and less inclined to be sucked into a cycle of poverty and marginalisation.

“This is the Magic Bus story, a story of using the power that play has.”

This is a part of the Spocial Revolution series, a collaboration with The Alternative featuring stories of sports as an instrument towards social change and voices from the community on sports as a choice in sustainability.


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