The roots for Magic Bus were set up unwittingly in 1999 by Founder Matthew Spacie through an innocent game of soccer that he shared with street children in Mumbai, India. Little did Matthew realise then what impact soccer as a sport, and him as a mentor, were having in the life of those children.
Taking shape into a formal program today, Magic Bus works to move some of the world’s poorest children out of poverty. Based on Matthew’s experience, the organisation’s model is based on using mentors to engage children. Mentors, who are young adults from the same community as the children, are fostered to deliver the Magic Bus program and become role models to the children on the program. Mentors ensure that children are taught to make the right choices from childhood all the way through to better livelihoods as adults. They teach children primarily about gender equality, education and health, as well as help them to develop their social and emotional skills.
Sporting activities and games are structured into each of Magic Bus’ sessions to make them fun and appealing to children. Sessions are designed to represent real-life situations and challenges so children are able to relate these back to their daily lives. And these numbers speak of how impactful sports as a tool has been for the organisation –
Through Magic Bus, 7 in 10 dropouts have re-enrolled to complete school. 93% of children on the program believe that being in school is their right; with an equal number going to school regularly. And 90% want to take up further studies after their 10th Standard.
The organization has also been successful in removing gender barriers. Currently, 40% of children in the program are girls, who are exercising their right to learn and play. Further, 89% Magic Bus children believe women can be equally good leaders as men; and 97% believe that boys and girls can play together.
On the importance of good health and hygiene – every child on the program believes they need to be clean to maintain good health, that it is important to boil/filter drinking water and that they should visit a doctor when they are not well. 92% believe it is necessary to use condoms during sexual intercourse!
Many miles away from India, the organization Up2Us came out with a recent study about the Sports-Based Youth Development (SBYD) Movement in America. To quote from their paper, “The human species was not designed to be this sedentary. And the lack of physical activity among our young people is now showing its negative, and even deadly, effects. Most of us know by now that lack of physical activity leads to childhood obesity which leads to diabetes which leads to early death. But now science is demonstrating that inactivity also leads to poorly functioning brains, which leads to poor decision-making, increased risk for depression, greater susceptibility to mental deterioration and, yes, early death.
We also know that little or no physical activity leaves our youth susceptible to other activities that may not be as socially beneficial. In urban communities, youth often cite that they join the gang because there were no sports programs available or because they aged out of the only sports program in the neighborhood. Under-resourced women say they became moms at age 14 because there were no female role models whom they trusted to show them they could become anything else.”
The research goes on to share how academic institutions in the US with few sports and physical activity programs have dropout rates that are sometimes three and four times higher than those that offer these programs on a regular basis.
Another revelation was that kids in SBYD environments are less likely to participate in violence and truancy. Especially for children growing up in neighborhoods with violence and poverty, SBYD works as a preventative approach to keep young people from making “bad choices.”
The benefits of sports are clearly universal. It’s thus becoming important to make sports accessible to young people – all young people, not just the natural-born athletes and the ones who can afford it. Through sports, youth learn skills, values and life lessons that help them to live healthier and become more successful human beings – like teamwork, leadership, discipline, grit, compromise, celebration, diversity, victory, loss, and determination.
So whether it means playing in the backyard, on a street lined with orange cones, or at the school gym, sports and play need to be encouraged. We need our children to play – be it here in America – the land of opportunity, in the largest growing economy – India, or any other part of the world.