By NSRCEl October 30, 2018
“During my growing up years and through most of my adult life, I barely knew what sports were. Perhaps I sometimes saw some of it on television or the newspaper but the thought that any of my family would ever be involved in it just never occurred to me.”
These are the words of Prakash a member of the Siddi community living in the forest areas of Karnataka. A little-known and highly isolated community, the Siddis are descendants of the Bantu people of sub-Saharan Africa who were brought to India by the Portuguese as slave labour. They are now settled in the coastal areas of Karnataka, Gujarat, and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Prakash, a forest dweller who lives in extreme poverty in Karnataka says; “I have tears in my eyes for every rupee that I earn and the thought that my daughter could ever participate in a sport was something that I could not even dream of. Here if children work for a few hours a day, they earn 50 to 60 rupees which usually goes towards their meals.” Yet today Prakash’s daughter is enrolled in school and is a promising young athlete being trained for competitive games. “I feel extremely happy when I see our kids involved in sports,” says Prakash “and the fact that they are getting training at no cost could only happen because of Bridges of Sports Foundation.”
It is a commendable effort from NGOs in India which are training underprivileged children in sports and giving them a platform to excel even at the national and international levels. But to reach out to an isolated community like the Siddis and to convince forest dwellers amongst them to let their kids be enrolled in school and to get into sports training side-by-side with their academics….that is unequivocally a story out of the ordinary. Bridges of Sports Foundation (BOSF), incubated at IIM Bangalore, under the NSRCEL Social Ventures is certainly building some rather impressive bridges and that too in areas where few have ventured. A non-profit start-up set up in Bangalore, BOSF has a straightforward vision; to empower and integrate underprivileged communities through, what it calls the sports ecosystem. Says Founder Nitish M. Chiniwar, “Quite simply we aim to provide children from backward communities the opportunity to learn, play and excel in sports.” The talking point here is that BOSF has actually shown great commitment by going into areas which are truly isolated and backward and intervened with communities there. And the results have been spectacular. In April 2017, selected coaches of BOSF travelled 800 km across Karnataka to meet the children of the Siddi community, where families live in impoverished circumstances and convinced their parents to let them join BOSF partner schools and to train in athletics. 30 Siddi kids were initially enrolled, to be given an education and be trained in athletics. One amongst them was Ravikiran who was enrolled into Loyola School in Mundgod and was put into a structured training regime for athletics. Today the boy is just 1.5 seconds away from shattering the world record for his age. And he is just one of the achievers. Together these children have not just excelled and won medals at sports meets but 12 of them are just a few paces away from the respective records at national and international levels. The achievement has been remarkable and has acted as quite an awakening for local authorities who are agog about who these children are and where they have come from.
Elaborates Chiniwar, “We build capacity and awareness for sports through grassroots movements and provide support for talent transition to elite levels. We have crafted a rigorous system through which we identify and equip community coaches to train children at local community/government schools. And through by gamifying the whole system, we are able to provide training to children at just 99 INR/month.” BOSF has created one of India’s first time based, community athletics league which is the fulcrum around which it has designed its sports program.
Children who are being reached out to by BOSF are just grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Says Poornima, one of BOSF regional coaches who is developing the athletics structure in the Mandla region of Madhya Pradesh; “The children in this region never knew about the talent they had. But with an organization like BOSF coming in and especially them doing even a small thing like every child should know their running times- it’s just amazing how the children and coaches alike are now pushing themselves to constantly learn and train harder”.
With operations in 3 states already, its busy times for BOSF but the desire to grow is strong. Says Chiniwar, “Currently we are operating in several districts of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and have just started a pilot in Orissa with 1800 children, but we have a long way to go. There are almost 300 million children in India, and we need to make sure that everybody gets access to sports. On this note, over the next 5 years, we have an aim of reaching out to organizations, partners both in for-profit and non-profits sectors, with a focus on inclusive representation and co-creation to penetrate to communities all over India with our aim of empowering them through sports.”
Author: Gaver Chatterjee
Source: CSRBox Impact Stories.