In essence, it is easy to say that Magic Bus is a youth development organization. But, what is the importance of this in the NGO sector? This is something people always ask me. India is one the most populous countries in the world. Unlike other massive economic superpower rivals like China, one thing is very unique about the self-proclaimed “largest democracy in the world”: it is incredibly young. Almost half of the country is younger than 25. Magic Bus is one of so many organizations that is attempting to help serve these youth and assist them become active and aware members of Indian society.
Investment in youth issues is a primary concern for India. In Mumbai, half the city lives in neighborhoods that are unprotected and informal. This is where a majority of the youth in this city live – in cramped and unclean spaces with minimal and weak infrastructure, as well as limited access to social services. Mumbai is one city on the map, yet the reality is that most families who exist in poverty live in a whole other city that is isolated from the other sections that most people see as Mumbai. With so many youth living in these vulnerable neighborhoods, it is obvious that most lack the necessary resources to live a healthy life, while also encountering opportunities that will benefit their future.At Magic Bus, daily struggles that many of our youth are confronted with include child marriage, drug abuse, abusive or unsupportive parents, lack of access to education, poor hygiene and sanitation, poverty, malnutrition, exercise deprival, gender disparity – the list goes on. These are the problems that weigh heavy on these young people’s lives and keep them from attaining more. Proper social development of India’s youth and empowering them to be aware of their capacity should be a priority for India to progress socially and economically, but impossible without more support for these youth by Indian society.
In the NGO space, Sports for Development (S4D) is a unique sort of blanket approach to dealing with a lot of the problems that keep these youth uninformed, unguided and without proper social or physical development. S4D uses sports as means to achieve important ends such as: awareness on health and body, facilitation of gender equality, breaking down social barriers in communities, proving guidance and mentorship and changing children’s ideas on traditions such as early marriage. This past month, I was able to attend the Maidan Summit, 2012 – a conference put on by Magic Bus to bring together S4D org’s from all over India and even the international field to talk about this new phenomenon and create partnerships for strengthening their efficacy for work. The main message was that kids need to have spaces to play. They need to have spaces to be kids and become aware of things like acceptance for all and their rights.
Since I started this fellowship with Magic Bus, I have been skeptical for sports to a priority over things like health or education. The promotion of soccer and cricket as a means for development did not seem exactly fit when children in these communities have trouble accessing healthy food, clothing, health care and schooling. However, after working with so many NGOs that do very specific technical work — from teaching kids how to wash their hands and providing families with water filters, to teaching women how to handle home births safely — the role of Magic Bus as a multi-faceted helping-hand to inspire and advise people at young ages of their power to confront the full scope of community development issues is just as effective. It follows the idea of “teaching a man to fish,” rather than just giving fish away. The thing with sports for development is that it is not just about sports. The sports is the medium that actually does something useful: it brings kids out of their homes and in contact with other kids; it helps children and people exercise and gain physical endurance that supports their mental well-being; its brings segregated communities together; it teaches participants leadership, discipline and self motivation; it helps kids talk to each other and approach their community issue together. The design of Magic Bus further accelerates it’s this utility is to include community members and mentors that kids and adolescents can relate to and look up to for advice and support. Without any action, many of these youth will fall victim to problems that prevent them from progressing toward better lives with great potential. Slowly, this S4D methodology is proving itself and hopefully it will be well recognized for its successes.
I continually see the value and sadness in forgotten and marginalized youth, from urban jungles like Oakland, California to Mumbai. It is disheartening to see so many held back by a system that does not favor them. There is magic in seeing what a young person can do for themselves if they just get a little push and inspiration to do so. So it is about time that India pay attention to their needs, because this massive part of their population will either be it’s greatest resource or it’s greatest burden.
*To read more about my AIF year in India, check out my blog at www.ryanrballard.blogspot.com