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Reducing poverty, one child at a time


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Matthew Spacie,
Founder & CEO Magic Bus, (India, USA, UK & Germany)

Thirteen years ago, I was playing rugby at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan when I noticed a group of street-children who lived at the bus stop across the street from the Gymkhana Club, where my team and I practised. I called them over to join in the game one day, and just like that, the idea of Magic Bus was born. These rugby sessions quickly became a routine and over the next few months, I started coaching them as a team.

The effect was remarkable. Being part of a team inspired every child to aim higher. They went back to school, enrolled in vocational courses and became mentors for younger children in their community.

By then, we had started looking at the larger context around us: India had invested in a tremendous amount of infrastructure and services focused on education and employment; yet schools and vocational centers sat under-used. And very few initiatives seemed to be focusing on enhancing employability.

I had already seen that sports could be a great way to change behaviours and develop social and emotional skills needed to be job-ready. My team and I decided to pull this learning together in the form of a curriculum, which we called the Sport for Development curriculum, a sophisticated collection of tools and activities to help children achieve development goals.

This turned out to be a breakthrough. We quickly expanded, first to 3,000 children in Mumbai and then over 2,25,000 across India. Driving this kind of growth were our volunteer mentors, young women and men who were inspired enough to become coaches to the children from their own communities. They number 8,000 today and are our front-liners in the villages and slums they come from.

After 13 years of this work, we are now in a position to start asking ourselves the real questions: does our approach towards poverty reduction actually work? Our internal evaluations have thrown up answers that give us hope – that Magic Bus children grow up better educated and more aware of their rights and the opportunities in their environment; that Magic Bus children are growing up healthier, thanks to the inputs they get on healthy living.

What works for nearly a quarter of a million children is the one-on-one approach. “Two years ago, I was whiling away my time, not going to school and just picking fights,” recalls 14-year-old Sonu. “The Bhaiya (elder brother) from Magic Bus slowly coached me into looking at other things I could do with my time, such as enroll in school.” Sonu’s mother is the one most relieved. “Her energies are better directed into learning well at school, which means I can look forward to a real future for her,” she says. For below-poverty line families like Sonu’s, learning and growing well spells the difference between poverty and freedom from want.

Personally, what I find encouraging is that the Government of India is taking notice. Magic Bus has a knowledge and technical partner with the Government of India on both using and training others in the sport for development approach for a few years now. In December, we started work with the Government of Jharkhand as a partner.

This means that the hard work we are putting into building this solution can, at some point soon, be put to use as a very real, local solution to the reality that faces us every day of our lives: extreme poverty. Feedback: matthew@magicbusindia.org

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