Wednesday, June 5

Akash Verma – Magic Bus’ Youngest Volunteer

Akash with the children he teaches tennis
It’s Sunday morning. I’m in Laxmi Narayan Park in the posh Vasant Vihar area of Delhi. A young boy walks into the park carrying two bulky bags on each side. An excited group of children, aged between 8 and 12, come huddling in from a nearby Bhanvar Singh Camp, one of the many slum settlements in the city. The young boy hands over the bags to them, upon which they reach a spot and swiftly assemble two nets, grab the tennis rackets and eagerly wait for their trainer Akash to teach them a new tennis skill.

The Bhanvar Singh Camp community largely comprises of migrants from Rajasthan and the remoter parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They live in small huts with roofs made up of cemented slabs and plastic sheets. Men are mostly engaged in daily waged labour work or are cooks, sweepers, drivers and helpers.

Akash’s mother, Monica Logani got in touch with Magic Bus in September 2012 when she was looking forward to getting her three children, 13-year old Akash, 11-year old Priya and 8-year old Shailen into Magic Bus’ volunteer programme.  “I heard about Magic Bus from my sister who was there in New York for a Fundraiser and it’s always been at the back of my mind. She told me how Magic Bus works with marginalised children and youth at such a grassroots level teaching them important lessons through sport. When we shifted here, my son Akash was moved by the poverty he saw around him. He told me that he wanted to help less-privileged children. This innocent desire of my young son prompted me to get in touch with Magic Bus. Soon after, Akash became a volunteer at Magic Bus and started out with weekly tennis training for the Magic Bus children,” shared Monica enthusiastically.

Akash teaching one of the young boys how to get a good grip of the racket
Akash Verma has been an avid tennis player from a very young age. He has been trained by one of the top tennis coaches on the East Coast of the U.S. and has frequently been cited for his solid fundamental strokes and footwork. He has competed in United States Tennis Association Tournaments for the last few years. In 2012 he was ranked #2 in the State of New Jersey for boys aged 12 and under. Last year, he stood 2nd in the U.S. National Grass Tennis Tournament.

Since moving to New Delhi last summer, Akash was admitted into the very prestigious Tennis Academy at Siri Fort, which prepares young tennis stars for the Davis Cup.  From there he came up with an idea and told his mother, “Hey Mom, what if I was able to take a bunch of kids and teach them how to play tennis, teach them a new sport and how great sports is and the important lessons you learn through sports like hard work, team spirit and being able to relate to each other?”

Tennis training in progress
“It’s been a beautiful and adventurous journey for me since then - meeting these enthusiastic children who have so much potential. I have had a great experience and have learned many things. Before I came here I didn’t know the face of poverty and what these children looked like and I thought that they would be very different. But the children are so enthusiastic. They are very kind, they always want to help one another. You can tell that great values have been instilled in them like they always let the girls go first,” shared Akash quite excitedly.

Akash continued, “most of them have great athletic ability, probably better than some kids in the U.S. being trained by some of the greatest tennis players.”

The raw athletic ability and the enthusiasm being displayed by the children coming forward to learn the new sport are immense and surprising. “It’s very overwhelming to me and it makes me also so excited to come here every Sunday and spend time with them, to get to know them better. I am aware that I am having an impact on these children but in return I am being impacted by them too. They are helping me to believe that I am able to do something good, and in turn I can see that these kids just need somebody to believe in them and they can soar the skies,” shared Akash.

By Harshita Arvind, Communications, Magic Bus

Tuesday, June 4

Incredible Stories on Empowerment - Parvati Pujari

"I, Parvati Pujari, am a National Junior Trainer with Magic Bus in Mumbai. My struggle to reach where I am today is a story worth sharing.
I was born on 16th August 1990 at Bhabha Hospital in Mumbai. This was a first for my mother – her three first children, my elder sisters, had all been born in the shanties she lived in at the time. I was the first one to be born in a hospital.
My father worked on a construction site as a mason, and my mother looked after me and my six siblings. We didn’t have a home to call of our own. Mostly we stayed in shanty housing in the different construction sites where my father would be employed. After my youngest sister was born, we were nine members in the family and it was getting impossible for us to survive on just one income. So my mother also started working for a living. During that time my father was a construction labourer in a huge upcoming complex named Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel. My eldest sister never went to school, she was in charge while my parents worked. 
Parvati with the prizes she has won over the years

My parents did not really think education was important, not when getting the next meal was of topmost priority, so none of my elder sisters went to school. A small NGO named Sunbeam taught me basics like alphabets and numbers in Hindi. We loved the teachers there because unlike at school, these volunteer teachers paid a lot of personal attention to each child and ensured that their concepts were clear. My curiosity and enthusiasm made me continue attending the classes. My younger sisters used to tag along too.
My eldest sister was married off at an early age of 12. If only she had been educated or received proper guidance as I did later in my life, she could have been saved from the clutches of this child marriage.
One day, Sunbeam took us on a three-day excursion organised by Magic Bus. It was a unique experience for me – I had never been on a picnic before. Those three days I still remember as absolute magic playing and learning with friends in a safe environment. It was here that I understood the meaning of bonding, of what it means to have friends.
Later, Sunbeam helped me get an admission in the Lower Parel Municipal School where I completed my 3rd and 4th grades. I realised I could be an athlete when I received my first prize money of Rs. 21 in the annual sports day held in the school.
Parvati on the training field

I was 9 years old when I started attending the Magic Bus weekly sessions, on Wednesdays. The sessions at Magic Bus made me relive the magic of the three-day excursion – we were all playing, learning, sharing and caring. Over the years, we learnt complex things like communication skills and teamwork, and also simple things like hand-washing, which keeps germs away.
Because of my skills I was given specialised training. I was just 10 then. I used to travel alone from lower Parel to the park in buses. This training helped me enhance my skills in sports later. By then I was also becoming an avid footballer.
When I was in 9th grade, my parents refused to let me pursue my studies any further. They felt it was my age to be married. My elder sisters had been married at the age of 12, 13 and 17 respectively. After marriage all three of them settled in different villages. I did not want to end up like them, bound to the home  in a village, so I decided to fight for what I believed in. My father complained of the burden that my education had caused him; he said because of the expenditure on my education, he did not have enough money to feed my younger sisters. After a whole two months of resistance, my parents let me continue my education.
I finished my 10th grade and my family began to pressurize me for marriage again. My mentors from Magic Bus spoke to my parents and offered me the job with Magic Bus. Magic Bus gave me a fellowship and paid me a stipend of Rs. 2500 per month. I was 15 and I was thrilled beyond belief. I used my income to pay for my college tuition and support my family. I worked from 9 am to 5 pm and enrolled myself in a junior night college where I completed my 12th grade.
I had done all my schooling in a Hindi medium school so when I joined college, it was a big challenge for me to cope with the English-language classes. Most of my friends would attend coaching classes but I did not have any time as I was working during the day.
I received my board results while I was at a refresher training camp with Magic Bus. I had managed to score a 59% in my Boards and I was satisfied. My parents were proud of me. By the time I came back from the camp, the admissions in all the colleges were closed. I decided to test my luck and visited Siddharth College where I got admission on the basis of sports quota for a Bachelors degree in Commerce. During the same time, I got selected as a National level Rugby player.

Interview with India's famous talk show host and acclaimed Director, Karan Johar, at a fundraising dinner organised for Magic Bus.
Also, I started playing football for various clubs like Magic Bus Football Club and Body Line Club. I stood first in an essay writing competition held by Laadli, an organisation that worked for the welfare of women. 
While I was in my second year of under graduation, I was awarded with the “Active Woman in Sports” award with prize money of Rs. 15,000 from my college. Magic Bus promoted me to the Training and Accreditation team. In my 3 years of college, not once has the championship cup gone to any other college in inter-collegiate sports tournaments.
It was during this time that I made my first trip abroad to London with Matthew Sir, the founder of Magic Bus for a fundraising program. It was a memorable experience, telling everyone how I had missed the life of a poverty-stricken woman by a whisper, and how their support can make sure girls like me don’t grow up to be uneducated mothers. I also got the opportunity to attend the Julie Foudy Leadership program for football training during the same time.
Right now, I am awaiting my final semester results. I am considering doing a sports management degree . My parents are still coaxing me to get married while I work relentlessly to fulfill my goals. For me, accepting responsibility for my life, knowing it is only me who can get me where I want to be has helped overcome my challenges."