Monday, May 13

Learning to Unlearn: How we can create inclusive spaces in the field for people with no interest in sports

Ravi Chauhan

It has been 10 years in Magic Bus and I am still thrilled about the work I do here. The children, communities, sports and so much more add value and memories to this journey. From a rugby player in the Magic Bus junior team to my present role as a Training Manager enabling Magic Bus staff and volunteers to carry out our activity-based curriculum in India and Bangladesh, I have come a long way. In the last 10 years, I came across various situations during which I was encouraged, challenged, criticised  and supported -  all with one single motive, that is to enable me grow to the best I can.

The Premier Skills programme, a course offered by the British Council and Premier League, was an opportunity that came my way. This ‘community coach educator’ programme helped me look at what I do with a different lens. Often as a trainer we are required to reinvent ourselves. This particular programme helped me think of new strategies to involve and dialogue with communities using the medium of sports and activities.

Over here, I must pause to explain why this is important in Magic Bus’ context. In Magic Bus, typically we organise community tournaments to kickstart our programme. We invite a large number of stakeholders – local leaders, headmasters of schools that we work with, parents and children. We organise a football match and get all of these stakeholders to participate. It helps us break the ice in the community. It gives us a platform, a foot-in-the door to begin some serious behaviour change conversations around gender equality or sending children to school. It is the playground that we begin our efforts to change.

I vouch for this approach. Countless times I have seen how parents voice their issues, school teachers open up about what works and what doesn’t in their schools, children talk about what issues they face at the end of a tournament. But at the Premier Skills programme I learnt that football as a medium might not be the best way to begin a conversation or include everybody. There are people who get left out because of the game we choose. True it breaks the ice but does it do the same for everyone?

That got me thinking. What can we do to transform a tournament to a celebration where all stakeholders have a role whether or not they can kick a ball? When I say celebration, I see people in community driving the programme all by themselves. In such a celebration, we can have activities that excite every single person. How about having different corners in the ground (the same football ground) well suited for different kinds of people? What about raising a platform where parents and donors can have a direct interaction? Or, parents and school teachers? Sounds interesting, right? We at Magic Bus have a whole host of engaging games that can be played by different age groups. And these could be used to begin a conversation among different groups of stakeholders who probably don’t know each other well but whose support is essential for the overall well-being of the children.

While football is an engaging sport widely viewed and liked by people across ages, it might not be enough to bring about collaboration or communication among different stakeholders in the community. While working with communities, we have to continuously reinvent our approach, and learn to unlearn different strategies that we might have used with success before.

By: Ravi Chauhan 
      Manager-Training, Magic Bus

Thursday, January 3

Renuka on her path of empowerment

Renuka, 23, wanted to be a Chartered Accountant and build a dream house for her family. A resident of Delhi, Renuka lives with her parents and younger brother. The latter has only recently completed his secondary education. Her father works as a bus driver in a private company and her mother is a homemaker.

After clearing the Common Proficiency Test (CPT), Renuka was determined to follow through on her ambitions. But something put a staggering hurdle on her way. Watch this video to find out more about what stopped her from achieving her dreams.

To ensure we reach out to more and more girls with right opportunities, donate to us here.

Friday, October 12

In pursuit of work: Vikas’s story

"I never imagined any company would hire me," says 22-year-old Vikas from Chamle village of Bhiwandi, a town located almost 36km away from the city of Mumbai. Vikas’s parents are farmers with an income of Rs. 5,000 a month. Their family of five was surviving on this. Vikas didn’t have the means to opt for college. "I had to look out for work instead. But with just a higher secondary degree there were no jobs available for me." He enrolled for a diesel mechanics course with the hope to find a job, but in vain.

Convinced that all doors to employment are permanently closed, Vikas fell in the company of young people who whiled away time playing cards. That is when his uncle spoke to him and informed him about the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre at Ambadi, just 8km away from his home.

Thus began Vikas’s journey as a part of the second batch of young persons who underwent livelihoods training at the Macquarie-supported Magic Bus Livelihood Centre in Ambadi, a village located at Bhiwandi tehsil of Thane district in Maharashtra.

Vikas is among the 10,000 young people who attend Magic Bus’ Livelihood programme across India. The programme that began in 2015 connects the aspirations and potential of young people to available market opportunities. In doing so, the organisation focuses on building their employability skills and maps job potential based on individual strengths and mobility.

At the Livelihood Centre, Vikas got an opportunity to plan his career. He went for counseling sessions where he spoke about his strengths and came to terms with his limitations. He took keen interest in learning to speak in English, and in the digital and financial literacy classes. At the end of the two-month long course, he sat for job interviews lined up by the Centre. He joined as an RO technician at a leading water treatment plant with a starting salary of Rs. 9,000 per month.

"I could sense a beginning at a point of my life when I had completely given up hope," he says.


Within six months of his joining, Vikas got promoted as a team leader with four employees reporting into him. His performance earned him a place in the sales team of their water purifying products. Within a span of just four months, he sold more than 50 units of water purifiers, earning business worth four lakh rupees. It was around this time that he also received an offer to intern with Coca Cola. It was a paid internship of Rs. 7,000 per month.

At present, Vikas works two jobs. He earns Rs. 17,000 per month. "Our conditions have improved. We don't need to worry about two square meals a day. I still see this as a beginning. I want to work more, see more of the world and do better with each job," he signs off.

Vikas at his place of work

Vikas is a story of hope, a face of India’s future that is largely young. In the next few years, India’s future will be written by ambitious and enterprising young persons like Vikas. And this is where the need emerges to make a young population – so large in number – ready to dream and work. In making this a reality, non-profits like Magic Bus works with various stakeholders – corporates, government entities, and the community to ensure every young person has the opportunity to work, earn, and move out of poverty.

To ensure we reach out to more such young people with right opportunities, donate to us here.

Monday, January 22

Learning to Learn: How the DISHA programme helped Jagu return to school

Image used for representative purpose only

Jagu Rathore is 16 years old and lives in Lakhanpura village in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. Khargone is located 74 km from Indore, the largest city of Madhya Pradesh.

They are a family of five. With his elder sister’s marriage, Jagu, his parents and elder brother live in a wooden hut that Jagu calls ‘home’. Jagu’s parents are farmers. “Banjaras, Gujjars, and Thakurs are three caste groups that live in Lakhanpura. Almost all of them are dependent on agriculture. Those who own vast acres of land are the richest. Even in a small village like ours, the division between the rich and poor is visible,” Jagu explains.

Jagu’s parents never went to school. His elder brother studied till the 10th standard and his sister till the 5th standard. “My parents always wanted me to study further. They struggled to make ends meet and would spend more time in the fields than with us. But that is the story of every poor household in Lakhanpura,” he says.

Jagu went to a school in his neighbourhood. “I had absolutely no interest in studying. Like my friends, I wanted to make quick money by working odd jobs. I did not listen to my parents’ advice,” he admits.

One day he stopped going to school and started working at a garage earning Rs. 1000 a month.

He was unaware of changes taking place in his school.

HDFC’s DISHA programme began in Jaggu’s school around the time he had dropped out and had no intention to return. Ritesh, Magic Bus staff who manages the DISHA programme in Madhya Pradesh, says, “We were initially not welcomed by school authorities. But we spent the initial months winning their support. We listened to their problems and wherever possible, offered to work with them on these. The teachers shared that children in the schools are irregular and they have no interest in lessons. That became one of our early goals to achieve – getting them back to schools and interested in being there,” he says.

With its activity-based curriculum, that promised fun and learning at the same time, Ritesh’s team soon managed to capture the imagination of the children. In fact, news about the sessions reached the elders at Lakhanpura, who had already started participating in some of the Community Connect initiatives of the programme.

It was Vishal who brought the news of an “interesting hour-long activity session in school” to Jagu. “I already felt weary of the work and longed to go back to school. After learning from Vishal about this new development, I was keen on finding out more about it.”

By then, Nirbhay Singh Gurjar, who was in charge of the activity-based sessions in school, had heard about Jagu and visited his parents to find out more about the boy and his circumstances.

When Jagu finally reached school he was surprised to find a circle of his classmates, holding hands, buzzing with excitement. Without saying a word, he joined them. At the end of the session, he was keen for more information. No one had spoken to him about the importance of education in such an engaging manner.

Image used for representative purpose only

“I came back every day with the hope that I would learn something new. Each session would be different from the last. I had finally become curious. I started paying the same amount of attention in class and was surprised how interesting my lessons could be,” he says, his voice brimming with enthusiasm.
“I was made the class monitor because I am responsible,” he adds in a small voice, trying to suppress a smile.

The DISHA programme is aimed at building life skills of adolescents, improve their learning in numeracy, reading, and science and ensure they are job ready.

The programme is funded by HDFC Bank and implemented by Magic Bus, Life Labs, and Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with the State governments of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. It works in 172 schools across four States impacting the lives of 17,500 adolescents.

Photographs used in this story are for representation only.

Wednesday, September 20

11-year-old stands up against domestic violence in Bombay Port Trust

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Nazifa Kachi was playing with her friends in Bombay Port Trust when she noticed something odd about her neighbor.

“Her whole eyes were swollen,” she said. “She told me that her husband and his family beat her up with a belt. I tried to tell her to file a police case, but she just ran away the next day.”

That wasn’t the first time Nazifa saw women in her community beaten and bruised by their husbands. Even as an 11-year-old, she is no stranger to the horrors of domestic violence because it was right where she lived.

BPT is a community located along the coastline of Mumbai. Nearly 100,000 families live on the land in less than humane conditions. Since BPT is an illegal slum, residents are not provided with basic necessities like water and electricity and have to pay 50 to 200 times more for inconsistent access to those amenities than more affluent citizens (Subbaraman, 2015). The possibility of the government destroying the shanties looms over residents every day, and demolition in some areas has already begun.

BPT’s problems don’t stop there. Social issues and inequality run rampant through the community. Mumbai has seen a 354 percent increase in rapes since 2011, many of those taking place with alarming regularity in slums like BPT (Hafeez, 2016). Because of this, parents have to be very careful about letting their daughters leave the home for short errands or play-dates with friends. Even a walk to school can be dangerous.

Nazifa’s family isn’t originally from BPT. They migrated from a village in Gujarat for her father to work in the naval port. When asked if she liked her community, she was quick to shake her head and say “no.” Her father works/322554 as a helper in the local port, earning Rs. 7000 a month. Her mother is a home-maker. Four of them live in a small shanty, one of the many that stands squeezed to each other in the darkened, open-drained alleys of BPT.

“I don’t like that the teenage boys and men use drugs and sexually harass women,” she said. “I want to make a change and tell people drugs and alcohol are bad and involve police, because it leads to worse things. Violence and fights happen a lot here.”

Since her parents and her four-month-old brother now call BPT home, Nazifa is determined to make a difference.

Nazifa has been a Magic Bus participant for four years and is in fifth grade. Every week, she and her friends attend Magic Bus sessions delivered by mentors from her same community.

“When Nazifa enrolled, she was silent and shy,” said Shanti Ravi, the BPT Magic Bus community coordinator. “Now she is taking initiative for issues in the community she cares about. I’m amazed. She’s so young and already doing this.”

Nazifa’s mentors are her favorite part about Magic Bus, and she said they have been helpful on her journey for justice. Their job is to deliver important sessions to participants such as the importance of health and gender equality, but they also helped Nazifa. She said after she complained to them about the violence in the community, Magic Bus staff raised awareness to local families and children that domestic violence is a dehumanizing and criminal offense in India.

“In the sessions, Nazifa reflects those lessons and wants quick action,” Ravi said.

Magic Bus also takes participants to the local police station, where they interact with officers. Nazifa befriended one of the officers and got their phone number in case she saw another incident of domestic violence.

“She is the only girl around here that does this kind of thing,” Ravi said.

Nazifa has big dreams for the future: both for her community and personally. She aspires to have a career in the medical field and will be the first in her family to go to college. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to help those around her. “The reason I want to be a doctor is to be able to help all those in need. In BPT, we see children and adults suffering from so many diseases because of the unhygienic conditions in which they are forced to live in.”

“When I’m a doctor I will help these women,” she said. “For now, I will do what I can. I want to make sure they’re okay and I want people here to be happy.”

Wednesday, August 23

Finding a job was a beginning to their dreams: the story of two sisters from Vizag

A year ago two sisters started to look out for a job against their wish to get an education. When they finally found a job, they realized that it could be a passport to what they have always wanted to do in life.

Mahabunnissa is 21 years old and Karimunnissa is 23.

The sisters are from Gajuwaka village in Vizag where they live with their mother and brother. Gajuwaka is “neither a village nor a full-fledged city”. It is one of those semi-urban areas on the outskirts of a city from where daily wage workers commute to every day in search of work. “It is an industrial area. There are a lot of industries around. Mostly people work in them as daily wage workers,” says Mahabunnissa.

Mahabunnissa and Karimunnissa lost their father seven years ago. It was a big blow to the sisters as both of them considered their father to be a role model. “He never went to school because his parents couldn’t afford sending him to school. So he always motivated us to study,” Karimunnissa reminisces. So close were they to their father that when he passed away, they decided to move from the neighbourhood. “It was too painful to keep living where we did. Plus, the mother had to start working to make ends meet. And there were no livelihood opportunities for her in our old neighbourhood,” explains Mahabunnissa. She adds, “We shifted. The shift was bittersweet for us sisters. We had to deal with the loss and adjust to our new surrounding which required us to be sociable.” The family moved 200kms to Kakinada, their father’s native place.

The financial crisis required both sisters to discontinue schooling and look out for jobs to support their mother. Their mother took up a job in the packaging factory, making Rs. 5000 per month. Their brother, who had earlier dropped out because he failed his tenth standard examination, was working as a welder in construction sites. “He left his job and now sits at home,” says Mahabunnissa, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

Karimunnissa heard about the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre in her neighbourhood after a friend of hers enrolled and told her all about it. “We were desperately looking for jobs. Having studied till the 10th standard, we were anxious that no one would give us a respectable job. We did not want to enter the daily wage work space,” says Karimunnissa. She decided to drop in at the Livelihoods Centre one day.

Her first day at the Centre involved introductions to the staff and introductory counseling sessions. That day, she left with hope in heart and smile on her lips. “I knew I had come to the right place. The staff is so encouraging here. They understood my problems. They did not pity me but genuinely wanted to help. I felt respected and appreciated,” says Karimunnissa.

To this day, Karimunnissa credits the sessions on spoken English, communication skills, and computer literacy for helping her get a job. “I got my younger sister to the Centre too. What we learn in school is important and yet not enough to help us get a job. That is where the Livelihoods programme comes in to help,” she says with a smile.

For Mahabunnissa the experience was no different. “I learnt so many new skill sets but the most important one for me was learning how to communicate,” she explains.

After completing their training at the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre, Karimunnissa was placed as a mammography technician at a clinic for a salary of Rs. 10, 200 per month. It has been a year since the day she got her first job that put an end to her search for a respectable job. It fanned her hopes to complete graduation in the future. “Part of my salary goes to running the family and a small part is kept aside for my education. I want to at least complete my graduation and move to a better and well-paying job,” she says.

Her younger sister has similar plans. Employed as a Sales Executive in a premium watch brand’s showroom, Mahabunnissa sees this as an apprenticeship opportunity. She earns Rs. 8000 a month and is keen to go for correspondence courses.

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Both of them support each other in whatever they do. Both of them have a goal in life – one for themselves and one for their family. Both of them feel the need to complete their education and move to better job opportunities.

Tuesday, August 22

The journey back to school: Mohsin's story

Rajasthan accounts for nearly 10% of the total child labour in the country with Jaipur alone having more than 50,000 child labourers in the age group of 5-14 years. The state stands third after UP and Andhra Pradesh as far as child labourers are concerned.(TOI, Mar 12, 2013)

One in every 11 children in India is working. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

More than half of the 5.5 million working children in India are concentrated in five states—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

56% of the working adolescents are no longer studying. And 70% of those in hazardous conditions are not studying. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

“Bhatta basti in Jaipur is notorious for child labourers who work on lac bangles within their households. Most of the adult members are either jewelers or unskilled labourers. Substance abuse among children and adolescents is high. Dropouts are common as children become workers early on in life”, says Magic Bus’ Neelima, who is in charge of the programme here.

There are 500 children in the Magic Bus programme in Bhatta basti. Do they go to school?

“Yes. A few of them work in household industries like bangle-making, but they also go to school. Initially, when children came for the sessions, they used foul language and were into substance abuse. This has changed considerably. Our work is a challenging one. Consider this: If a child spends two hours in the sessions learning the importance of education and the disadvantages of substance abuse, she also spends the rest of her time in the community where substance abuse is the ‘style’, with every other child being compelled to work than study. Therefore, we also work with parents, caregivers, community members, institutions within the community to ensure that a child does not lose out on her formative years”.

Such is Bhatta basti. It looks a bit different from the shanties that dot the landscape of megacities like Delhi or Mumbai. There are rows of pucca houses here – with exposed red bricks and high ceilings. Many houses have no roof. An open drain underlines the sorry state of hygiene in the area. People who call Bhatta basti home are largely from a single community engaged in bangle-making, stone-cutting, and tailoring.

Let’s walk along the meandering, narrow lanes of Bhatta basti along a partially hilly landscape to hear the story of a 19-year-old who lives in the area and whose story wants to be told.

“Which class are you in?”

Chances are, almost all of us have been asked this question at least once, or sometimes more than once, during our lifetimes.

Mohsin Farukhi

For Mohsin Farukhi, this was a question he had carefully avoided since he was 13 and stopped going to school. “My father worked as a stone-cutter in a nearby shop. My elder brother joined him after he finished his seventh standard because we were in desperate need of money. My younger brother failed in the eighth standard and started work at a local watch repair shop. My father stopped going to work once both my brothers started earning. When they got married and had their own children, they could barely spare any money to support the family. My elder brother earns Rs. 7000 a month while my younger brother makes Rs. 8000. This is why my parents started putting pressure on me to start working”, explains Mohsin. Consequently, he dropped out in the seventh standard and started assisting in a shoe shop where he was paid Rs 5 for working 12 hours in a day. “My father dropped me to my first workplace. I could never tell him how much I wanted him to drop me to a school instead”, Mohsin looks away as he shares the memories of his first day at work.

He didn’t stick to his first job for long. He soon made friends in the neighbouring stores and found out a different place to work with better pay. “I realised one thing: there will always be jobs available for children like us because we can be paid less and made to work more”. While Mohsin worked for longer hours in jobs that did not interest him, his father started working as a priest (locally called mohzim) in a dargah. His mother is a homemaker.

Mohsin with his mother

With three of their children working and two of them married with children, the family decided to build a pucca house in a different locality. So, they shifted to Bhatta basti area. “We could only afford a pucca house near an open drain. Its stench is unbearable on most days, but we are used to it. Sometimes it overflows, but we have learnt to live with that too”, Mohsin shares.

Three years ago, Mohsin came to one of Magic Bus’ sessions. He was 16 then.

Having never had the time to play, Mohsin took a strong liking to the activity-based session. “The person leading the session sat us down in a circle and asked how many of us went to school. I saw several hands in the air, and ran away”, he recounts.

Sarfaraz, who was conducting the session that day, saw Mohsin leave in a hurry and decided to find out more about him. He called upon him the next day while he was leaving for work. Mohsin confided in him his eagerness to learn. “If you want to go to school, who is stopping you?”, Sarfaraz asked. Mohsin explained his situation. That day, Sarfaraz left Mohsin with a hope, “You can still study. I will help you get re-enrolled”. The support he was looking for came to him in the form of a mentor he could trust.

Mohsin with Sarfaraz

When Sarfaraz spoke to Mohsin’s parents, he found out about the abject condition they were in. “Without Mohsin working, how would we manage to make ends meet? I have no income option at all”, Mohsin’s father said. Sarfaraz approached an NGO and mobilised funds for Mohsin’s education. Mohsin negotiated with his father to allow him to go back to school in return of working to support the family.

After a period of three years, Mohsin went back to school. He got enrolled in the tenth standard in a private school. “He was concerned about which class to get enrolled in. “I don’t look like a boy from the seventh standard. Everyone would make fun of me in school”, he would say. We consulted the teachers at the private school and got him enrolled in the tenth standard”, recalls Sarfaraz.

Mohsin’s challenges were far from over. “I found the lessons difficult. After all these years, I found it difficult to concentrate. It was exhausting to work and study simultaneously”, he shares.

Unfortunately, He failed the tenth examination. “His parents persuaded him to discontinue education. They didn’t think it was a worthy investment. But, Mohsin persisted in his attempts. And, of course, we stood by his decision”, says Sarfaraz.

Today, Mohsin has completed his 12th standard. He aspires to become a nurse because getting a MBBS degree would be too expensive for him. “I am, by far, the most educated in my family. My parents never went to school and my brothers dropped out. I don’t want to stop here. I want to study further and work in dignity”, he shares.


Regardless of the final destination, Mohsin inspires us to continue doing our work with the same unflinching determination.