Our Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum brought together sport for development children in Kolkata and Karachi
by Shreyas Rao
The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace – IDSDP (6th of April) always provides good opportunities within Sport for Development organisations like the Jungle Crows Foundation to try new initiatives and bring refreshing ideas into our projects.
Sport for Development events across the world provide a focus to the day and help in building new ways to engage young persons in different ideas and initiatives through sport. With this in mind, we had the ‘madcap’ idea of seeing if we could get children from our communities in Kolkata to interact with children in Karachi through a video conference on 6 April.
Britain is GREAT, an initiative of the British High Commission has given us the opportunity to create and deliver several events under the Sport is GREAT banner. Using our Khelo Rugby programme we have held events in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. Our Sport is GREAT work kicked off with a Rugby World Cup themed children’s tournament in Bhubaneswar and most recently saw a rugby tournament in Kolkata just for girls. For this we had more than 160 girls from across our Khelo locations in Kolkata and Siliguri come together to play and listen to an inspiring talk from Shubha Kenworthy.
Our thinking was that we wanted to do something a little different to mark IDSDP in 2016 and the video conference was something we felt could be very special for all the children involved. We were fortunate that the Kolkata offices of the British Council and Deputy High Commission shared our enthusiasm. Kolkata partners for what we called our Children’s Forum were identified by including Future Hope and Durbaar who both participate in the Football for Development project Dosti. And though we would have liked to link up with our own Khelo Rugby children in Lahore logistics meant it was better to connect with Dosti children in Karachi.
On the day of the event, 30 children arrived very excited at the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata dressed to represent their respective organisations. After a brief ice breaker session, the children all seated themselves anxiously at the conference room eagerly waiting to meet new children in Karachi. After a few redials the children were all soon immersed in free-wheeling, fun-filled banter about various aspects of their life, opening their hearts and their minds listening and talking about each other’s lives and engaging in an engrossing exchange.
I was delighted to be the moderator and followed a plan along the following lines, while encouraging the children to set the pace and be in control of their own conversations:
- Introduction – from each side: their names and what sport they played.
- A brief chat about their city and community.
- Language and culture – sharing each others different and same languages.
- A discussion about their own sporting experiences and favorite players.
- Challenges the children have faced while growing up and how sport has helped in these.
- Exchange on passions and hobbies.
- Fun chat over the hypothetical question – if I was in India for a day…. or If I was in Pakistan for a day…
- A round of Anthakshari between the children based on their common love of Bollywood songs
To make things simple, it was agreed at the start that the interaction would take place in Hindi. While it was the girls who dominated the discussion in Karachi, the participation was relatively equal from both boys and girls in Kolkata. Sport helped ease the tension even through a video conference – we started with a debate about whether Ronaldo or Messi was the better player. Of course Messi won, with the discussion going to a vote in both Karachi and Kolkata! Other highlights for me included the children teaching each other their respective languages – Bengali and Pashto, laughter and agreement on their love of Biryani and telling each other about their famed city landmarks.It was also great to see how the children could think criticaly even at such a young age, always surprising us with their maturity about issues and their enthusiasm about learning about each others culture. They were also sensitive enough to be politically correct – with a girl from Pakistan saying that she would love to play “Holi” if she ever visited India. The sports kits of girls was also a topic for discussion with the girls from India quite curious about what girls wore when they played outside in Karachi. At which, a little girl in Karachi nonchalantly stood up and turned around to show everyone her name printed on the back of her full sleeved track, implying that they were all indeed present in the room with their sports kit on. Several of the Kolkata children were pleasantly surprised that the girls even got a chance at sport. Towards the end, there was a lot of light banter about Bollywood and varying and similar tastes in music, fittingly ending in a fun game of Anthakshari between the two teams!
This experience turned out to be incredibly memorable for everyone involved; children and adults alike. With such an event it is quite hard to comprehend its significance. But it was noteworthy that all the children participating came from disadvantaged communities and generally lacked any regular access to technological resources. Yet, the children showed much maturity in the discussion, steering clear from populist prejudices and preconceived notions. The exchange of thoughts seemed to have enabled the children to refresh their minds from any narrow vision of the “other”, the “enemy” or other such identities that can be indoctrinated from a young age. It was clear that at the most basic level, children know no hatred, their curiosity is genuine, and the bonds they form are pure. It was incredibly heartening to see, in the end, a couple of them came near the screen and intently waved at each other. Alas, their hands could never meet but a peculiar yet innocent friendship took form.
One thing was clear, it was only the medium of sport that made something like this even possible to imagine. Sport creates unique channels of interaction; it provides an opportunity for opening new passages for dialogue. At a time when debate about nationalism is becoming ever more loathsome and petty, such events help elevate the plane of debate. Sport with its broad visions of equality can open up so many new doors everyday and guide us towards a renewed global movement. It is indeed a rare privilege for sport for development organizations around the world that they can facilitate such unique initiatives, that they can dream beyond borders and provide experiences beyond boundaries!
It is worth concluding by noting that the views here are expressed on my experience as a moderator. I will also be compiling more thoughts from the children themselves, and I am sure that is bound to spring many surprises.