Thursday, November 27

Breaking Barriers:Jolly Dass, Magic Bus community youth leader, shares her journey

I am Jolly. I am 20 year old and study Hindi literature at the Jesus and Mary College in  Delhi University.

This is where I live. You must not have heard of Sant Nagar in Delhi, have you? We moved in to the unauthorised settlement in 1986 in the search of a livelihood. After a lot of searching, my father joined as a cook at the a Pastor’s college with just Rs 3000 a month.

Rs 3000 (30 pounds, 48 dollars) between six people!It wasn't an easy life till my brother Rocky got a job as the youth mentor in Magic Bus.

This is my brother, Rocky. He inspired me to join Magic Bus. Actually, my left eye is dysfunctional since birth so I was sceptical whether I could go any further in sports. He encouraged me. 'It doesn't matter', he said, 'You just need to believe that in yourself.' Those words never left me in all these years.

Little did I anticipate what I was signing up for! I was a shy kid, afraid of making friends. Magic Bus changed it all. Through the journey, I came to know that I had the makings of a leader. I also understood that education is all I need to succeed in life.

When I was selected by the Equal Opportunities Cell of my college to participate in a 10-day-long conference at the King’s College, London, I was elated. The conference was on how to make education systems inclusive - something that I have felt all along in my life.In London, I saw myself speaking to a crowd for the first time, all nervousness forgotten.

I am a community youth leader with Magic Bus, now. I think all of us who live in dire poverty, or with disabilities have a possibility of discovering our own potentials, our own dreams. And that magical moment comes, when you've a mentor around - a mentor who believes in you and encourages you to believe in yourself.

I believe girls can make a difference to themselves and the world around if they are given the chance to get educated.

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Thursday, November 13

The wind beneath her wings:Ruby’s Story

18-year-old Ruby’s voice breaks into a wry smile when she thinks about her life before Magic Bus. Ruby is Magic Bus’ Community Youth Leader from Bhalaswa. Bhalaswa is a 15-year-old settlement which was formed after an eviction drive that pushed thousands of inhabitants to this slum cluster in west Delhi. Ruby’s family moved to Bhalaswa from Nizamuddin under similar circumstances. Their financial struggles worsened after they moved there since her father could not find suitable employment opportunities.

Ruby: a picture of silent resolve
Poverty is often cited as a reason why parents want their girls to get married at an early age. The reasoning is simple, "What could she do even if she got an education?" 

Such was the situation that faced Ruby. "Girls from my community were either married, or searching for grooms to get married. I was supposed to follow suit. I was in VII standard and at that moment I didn’t think I could study any further", she recounts. 

Four years ago, Magic Bus’ youth mentor spotted Ruby during a home-to-home survey. She came across as a cheerful yet determined girl who dreamt of becoming a police officer one day. Her father works as daily wage labourer. He is barely able to eke out a living for his family with a monthly income of just Rs.7000.

Ruby has three sisters and a brother. The threat of being married off as a child lurked in the minds of all her sisters. "When Mahadev bhaiya (youth mentor with Magic Bus) came to our house to convince us to join Magic Bus, my father disagreed. He believed that it was not okay for a girl to play – what would she do by learning how to play kabaddi and football", Ruby adds laughingly, "Also, he wasn’t sure if it would be safe at all". 

Discussing play strategies: Ruby with Youth Mentor Mahadev and TMO Santosh
The breakthrough came when Ruby’s father started seeing things in a different light.

After frequent interactions with Mahadev, and a visit to the sessions, Ruby’s father was finally convinced that her children would benefit from the programme. At the same time, he started believing that his daughters could progress further with education and they did not need to get married early. Thus, Ruby is now in the twelfth standard and has joined the computer classes at the Magic Bus’ Connect Center at Badli.

"The happiest moment in my life?" Ruby pauses on the question as she wades through her memories to choose the moment most dear to her. "The happiest moment in my life is when my father agreed that I could go back to school; I needn’t get married. My dreams suddenly seemed real", her voice brightens up with suppressed excitement.

After being a proactive participant in all the Magic Bus initiatives in her community, Ruby has now graduated to become a community youth leader (CYL) at Magic Bus. However, her journey as a CYL has not been an easy one. "Initially, parents would refrain from sending their children to my sessions. Being a girl and from a lower caste takes away a lot of credibility", she explains. Her grit kept her going. She spoke to parents through meetings and even invited them to her sessions. 

‘Reclaiming the right to play for girls is perhaps a step towards a gender-equal society’, Ruby 
Today, she has the entire community standing by her and looking up to her as a leader. She uses her influence in the community to spread the message of importance of educating girls and the perils of child marriage. She is now fondly called didi (sister) within her community.

Ruby aspires to become a police officer so as to crease out the rampant discrimination that women face at every step. "We lack role models in our community. I want to break that and be one myself!"

Free a girl from stereotypes and prejudices, and see her bloom into a leader. Meet our Ruby from Bhalaswa – a dreamer, a doer in every sense of the word.

Want to help many more girls like Ruby break out of gender-based stereotypes and realize their aspirations? Donate NOW

Photo credits: Nancy Farese

Friday, November 7

Rugby as a way of Life

“The magic happened 12 years ago when I was introduced to rugby,” says Ravi excitedly. “When I first saw the rugby ball, I thought it was some sort of an inflated egg!” adds Ravin, mischievously.

Meet Ravi, Magic Bus’ energetic, young trainer and a skilled rugby player, for whom sports is not just a hobby, but a way of life.

Ravi belongs to the banjara or the gypsy community. His childhood was spent in a slum in the bylanes of Colaba. His parents were daily wage labourers who worked tirelessly to make ends meet. They have never been to school.

In the field
In his words, the ‘turning point’ in his life was his introduction to Magic Bus. Here he played rugby for the first time and fell in love with the game. Such was his liking for rugby that he started taking an hour off on Sundays from work to participate in Magic Bus’ programme. ‘I wanted to involve myself as much as I could.’ With the help of Magic Bus’ youth mentor, he quit his job as a salesman and became the grounds man of the Cross Maidan where Magic Bus’ weekly programme was held. He was paid some money for the same.

Soon his single-minded dedication started reflecting on his performance. He was selected to represent India in the Indo-Pak Beyond Boundaries meet - a meet which also served as a cultural dialogue between the youth from sporting background from both the nations.  For the first time in his life, he could step out of his familiar surroundings and meet people his age but from different cultures and socio-economic groups.

In a training programme
Ravi was a key member of Magic Bus’ rugby team, the Magicians, from a very young age. He was also selected represent Maharashtra in the inter-state rugby tournament where his stellar performance won him a berth in the national side. He didn’t have a passport and therefore, could not participate in the match. Like a true sportsman, he refuses to let such disappointments come in his way. Ravi still harbours the dream to play for India in New Zealand one day.

He has dreams for his siblings as well. He doesn’t want them to struggle the way he has. So, when started working with Magic Bus in 2009 in the capacity of a youth mentor, he also began contributing to the family income and ensuring that his siblings complete their schooling.

Today, as Magic Bus Assistant Trainer Ravi reaches out on a weekly basis to nearly 50 children every week. Apart from this he also trains not just youth but even key government officials and teachers in the Sports for Development approach.

You, too, can support a youth like Ravi to break out of poverty and chart a new course in his or her life. DONATE NOW.