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Using basketball for empowering underpriviliged children

Jun 14, 2018

The benefits of sports reach beyond the impact on physical well-being, write Usha Sundar, Director of Operations, Hi5 Youth Foundation.

New Delhi: India as a whole is a population that values education above all else. What we are trying to do is show the connection between academics and sports. We are trying to go beyond the initial piece of sport being connected to teach life skills and actually showing how it impacts educational success.

Basketball and other sports bring people of all races and cultures together in a fun, collaborative, and competitive way. Research has shown that athletics and education intertwine; the soft skills learnt in the field or on the court – hard work, resilience and goal-setting – translate into the walls of a classroom. Keeping this in mind we built a flagship program “Hope thru Hoops” to train underprivileged children in basketball.

This journey began for us three years ago with just a simple mission to give opportunity for young girls and boys to play hoops in a structured way not just as an activity but to pursue this as a program of ‘excellence’ through their school years. Having got inspired by our son who coached young children in the US local league – the joy of watching him coach basketball was impressive.

Most of us believe education is the only path to success and very few realize that “sports” provides an alternate pathway to success especially for the underprivileged. Historically, the world over – sports that were once the stronghold of the “elite social class”; has been taken over by minorities and underprivileged once they were given the opportunity. It has paved the way for many of the underprivileged not only to taste success – but also change the industry and community.

Certainly, it did for us at Hi5 Youth Foundation. With hoops as a medium, our mission is to empower, inspire, and unite the underprivileged so that their athletic and educational aspirations are met through Basketball. The children are hungry for the opportunity and means to go to college or higher education is limited because of their economic power.

These three short stories illustrate the potential of a basketball program to create Hope thru Hoops – a chance given (and taken) is a life saver, one more child who is able to reach for the stars and beat the odds.

A tribal village near Mumbai vicinity where a residential school has been in existence for 3 decades enrolling boys and girls from 5-16 year olds. The parents are nomads or have no source of income to feed the children and it is best for them to send their children to this residential school where for them it is one less mouth to feed.

When Hi5 connected with this school two years back – sports was unheard of. Today the girls and boys who are enrolled in Hi5 program are the best talented teams beating the city kids effortlessly. They travel to different cities for state championships, they aspire, and they dream.

Going back home after the school exit exam means to work as a day laborer for boys and girls are forced into marriage at 16 to older men. For the first time in history, the children are enrolling into college through basketball to be together, to play and aspire to live life with head held high.

Physical activity is vital to the holistic development of young people, fostering their physical, social and emotional health. The benefits of sport reach beyond the impact on physical well-being and the value of the educational benefits of sport should not be under-estimated.

For instance, in the city municipal schools, children who study here often live in the slums and the parents are in real hardships being street vendors or hard manual day laborer. Often young girls are made to do house work and support younger siblings when parents are gone for the day. Girls miss school and boys are dragged by fathers to work as street vendors just to put food on the table every night. What keeps these boys and girls going is basketball. To play basketball they cannot miss school. Therefore, they request, rebel and plead with their parents to finish work and go to school and be there playing basketball every day. Two children made it to national Semi-finals as part of All Star Mumbai team.

These municipal school children have defeated the high end private schools who have been champions for many years. “The Green brigade” as we are called are in the top 4 positions when it comes to inter school tournaments. Earlier they were nameless with no identities and not respected by their families.

Now, after playing and winning at high end private school, they aspire to study there, their priorities have changed, they are looking beyond college. While some of our coaches still play at the university level, these children want to play Mumbai University and beyond. As they have tasted success and “winning moments” tucked under their belt, they are looking to reach the sky.

Hi5 has built a modern basketball court with flood lights in this orphanage that was adopted recently. The children in the program are very excitedwith this philosophy that Usha started the Hi5 Youth Fou about the sport and love to play all day making this court a special place to bond. The children are kept locked down most of the time and there is aggression, anger and lots of insecurities.

They are always howled at, never get appreciated and definitely have no one to call their own. With Hi5 basketball program, in a short span of 3 months their aggressions have come down, high energy is well appreciated and loved by their coach every single day. They aspire to go ahead with basketball and one day wants to be coach just like their coach. Hoops brought love, confidence, behavioral changes and high self-esteem.

With the above narratives, there is definitely hope through hoops - a chance to save and give them many opportunities in life. As Hi5 founders, we created basketball training but now we are creating hope and giving these impoverished children a chance to live a life for themselves.

As the saying in English goes, “All work and no Play makes Jack a Dull boy”. It has been forgotten that academic learning and sports education complement each other. They resemble the two sides of the same coin. If sports education is carried out accompanied with the academic curriculum, the overall personality of the student is increased to quite an extent. The qualities of the leadership, sharing, team spirit and tolerance are learnt from sports.

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