Running the World: How Sports Can Change a Girl’s Life


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    If you haven't heard Beyonce's hit song, "Run the World," listen to it now. Then come back. I'll wait. The first time I heard this song (because I'm not cool and I live in a cave) was in October when I attended the espnW Women + Sports Summit in Arizona. That's also where I met Rahul Brahmbhatt, director of the Magic Bus organization. Since 1999, Magic Bus has been using sports as a catalyst for social change in communities living under the poverty line in India by combining youth mentoring and experiential learning as its core foundation. In the early years, less than 4% of children in Magic Bus were girls — a direct reflection of a society that only placed girls in the traditional roles of daughter, wife, mother, and homemaker. When Magic Bus enters a community for the first time, the question posed by parents is always the same: "How can anything sports-related possibly change my daughter's life for the better?" Today, more than 44% of the 220,000 children in Magic Bus are girls — and they are writing the next chapters in their lives everyday. Here are just a few examples of how sports can, and are, changing the lives of girls and women across the developing world. —Dara Pettinelli
  • Health Reform 2 of 12
    Health
    Just a year and a half ago, in 17-year-old Anjani Yadav's rural North Indian community, 80 percent of girls had anemia. Seeing this, she taught children about low iron and supplements as a Magic Bus Youth Leader. Today, Anjani is proud to report that not a single girl in her community is reporting low iron levels. What does a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader do? A Magic Bus CYL is a young male or female generally between 18-25, who has been identified by the community, village elders, teachers, or local NGOs as a high-potential individual. He/she goes out into his/her own community and works with 25 boys/girls, taking on the role of coach/teacher/mentor. He/she runs sessions for children aged 8-15 a minimum of once a week, 2 hours each, focused on 30 mins of warm-up/team building, 1 hour of exercise/activity/experiential learning, and 30 mins of processing/reflecting.
  • Youth Volunteerism 3 of 12
    YouthVolunteering
    Gulafsha Ansari, 15, is helping break gender-based stereotypes in her community by using the leadership skills she has learned through soccer and sports. She resides in a town where girls traditionally are not allowed out of the house after reaching adolescence. She has taken it upon herself to be the role model for peers in her area by planning and executing a time every week where girls can play soccer. To achieve this, Gulafsha spent 3 months going door to door requesting that the parents allow their daughters to play, illustrating to them the benefits it has given to her, and slowly many families relented. Today, she manages a weekly program in her community that 20-25 girls attend.
  • Community Building 4 of 12
    CommunityBuilding
    In 2007, Magic Bus noticed there was 0% girl participation in their program in a Muslim area of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum. Since their goal is 50% participation in all programs, this was unacceptable. The team did three months of surveying, and surprisingly, the mothers in this community were the barriers to the girls participating; they didn't see the value in girls playing sports. Magic Bus offered to hold a mother's and grandmother's tournament three months later where the women could see, firsthand, the emotional and physical benefits of exercise and experiential learning. The event was such a huge success that Magic Bus holds these annual tournaments in each of the urban centers in which it operates. The best part is that the original teams formed between women were the seeds for the first self-help groups in these slum areas, where women could support each other and brainstorm initiatives in savings, microfinance, and more. Women who have spent their entire lives as someone's daughter and then someone's wife were able to see one another in a new light: as friends and teammates.
  • Dreaming Big 5 of 12
    DreamBig
    Prajakta Tambadkar, 16, hails from the urban slums of Mumbai, where girls are typically pulled out of school by 10th grade to be groomed for marriage. Prajakta has been part of Magic Bus for more than six years, and for the past two years, has had the opportunity to spend summers in the United States to take part in the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy with many of her Magic Bus teammates. This once-shy girl has blossomed; Prajakta was recently named to the U19 State of Maharashtra Women's Soccer team and will be competing nationally. Her goals now are to finish college in India and then move to the United States, where she would like to attend graduate school and continue to work on her soccer.            
  • Curbing Child Marriage 6 of 12
    ChildMarriage
    At 12, Poonam Soni watched two of her older sisters get married to older men and become mothers before they turned 16. She assumed this, too, would be her fate. But at 13 she joined Magic Bus and pushed to stay in school rather than get married. Poonam, now 21, is the first college graduate in the entire community of thousands, and her two younger sisters, aged 17 and 18, are still in school and unmarried thanks to her influence. The shift in her parent's thinking in only a few short years is something that makes her flash a huge smile.  
  • Job Preparedness 7 of 12
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    Sarita Gupta, 22, was like many youth in India today; she completed school and has technical skills, but doesn't have the employability skills — anger management, punctuality, teamwork, etc. — to succeed in the emerging economy. Three years ago, she became a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader, which gave her access to the Magic Bus Employability Program, Connect. Drawing upon the lessons inherent in sports and coaching, Connect helped Sarita develop the skills and emotional intelligence needed to be successful in a well-paying job. She now works full time as a designer for a local garment company and is earning more than 5 times what her mother, a ragpicker and seamstress, earns each month to help support her joint family.
  • Challenging Gender Roles 8 of 12
    GenderRoles
    Sangeeta Sharma, 12, lives in Delhi, which is traditionally a very male-dominated city. She lives in an urban slum area where many girls do not get a chance to play and take part in programs like Magic Bus. Luckily for her, she has an older brother, Sanjeev, 16, who personally appealed to their parents that Sangeeta be allowed to join Magic Bus, just as they had allowed him. He vowed to always make sure she was safe. After she participated for the first 6 months, many of the other families began to allow their daughters to play and learn as well. Today, there are more than 50 girls in this community that take part in Magic Bus.
  • Bridging Religious Differences 9 of 12
    ReligiousTensions
    Shabana Tabassum, 20, is a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader living in urban Hyderabad, the epicenter of Hindu and Muslim tensions in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. There is petty violence between the two communities on a daily basis, which sometimes leads to large riots. As a CYL, Shabana travels to mentor girls in the neighboring Hindu community, which at first didn't want her, a Muslim, working with their children. While both sides may not have agreed with her actions due to their prejudices, they did applaud her resolve. Over time, they began to see this young lady performing a very selfless act. Their children would come home and talk about about Shabanadidi (sister), and her name began to circulate through the community as someone who should be respected and looked up to. Her influence has increased girls' participation on the Hindu side (still not much on the Muslim side), but once again the real impact here is that two communities can see a woman as an influencer — without her parents or husband making the decisions.    
  • The First Female Mayor 10 of 12
    Leadership
    Ujwala Dongre, 26, was not a sports enthusiast when she joined Magic Bus as a Community Youth Leader (CYL) in 2009 in a rural district in Eastern Maharashtra. She was simply a woman who wanted to volunteer in her rural village community and use her skills as a teacher. In her first year as a CYL, she noticed that many of the issues and conflicts that arose on the field with the children were similar to the ones that arose between adults at the local village elders' meetings. Seeing the connection, she began to speak up at the meetings, drawing upon conflict resolution techniques she used earlier in the week with the children. Over time, all of the elder males in the village began to notice her intelligence and leadership, and in 2011, Ujwala was unanimously voted to be mayor of her village. She is the first woman to ever hold that post in the history of her community.
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    Education
    Parvati Pujari, 22, is the middle child of migrant laborers from the Indian state of Karnataka. Her family migrated to Mumbai 10 years ago to take part in the booming construction economy. Parvati and her sisters spent their days playing in the rubble of the job site since they had no documentation or formal residence in Mumbai to attend school. After joining Magic Bus, she was given all the help she needed to get the proper documentation and access to the local school. When her parents wanted her to drop out of school to get married at 15, she worked with Magic Bus and made a deal with her parents to remain in school. In May 2012, Parvati graduated from the University of Mumbai with a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce. On a micro level, her income is 3-4 times what both of her parents make — combined. On a macro level, she is now an authority figure in her community — and her word carries much weight with teachers, parents, and children; she is another example of not just a first-generation college grad in her family, but one of the first, if not the first, in her entire community.
  • What Can You Do? 12 of 12
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    All of these young ladies have been able to unleash their potential, to the pride and joy of their mothers and fathers, through their own hard work and determination. Magic Bus is simply the platform for them to rewrite their hopes and dreams. The organization uses a very low-cost, scalable program focused on local youth mentorship and team-building exercises. For $25 per year, kids aged 8-18 can attend 40+ sessions on gender equality, education, and safe health practices that they can pass on to their communities. If you want to get involved, consider joining Magic Bus on their push to reach the "Mission Million," where they aim to have 1,000,000 children in their programs every year. To join the team, visit: http://magicbususa.org/give/donate

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