Published: 15th August 2018
This Mumbai NGO empower tribals and underprivileged children through Basketball
Usha Sundar, co-founder of Hi5 Youth Foundation, talks about the inspiration behind starting this unique initiative
Five students from Gadge Maharaj Mission School, a tribal school in the interiors of Maharashtra, stepped into a city for the first time. It was the first time they had ever competed in a sport and it was definitely the first time they experienced the sweet taste of victory. They were elated of course, but more than that, they suddenly felt a sense of self-worth and purpose, like they had something to look forward to in life.
Years ago, these children had left their hamlets, about 60-80 kms away, to get an education and because their parents couldn't afford to feed them anymore. But it was in 2017, when Hi5 Youth Foundation, an NGO that equips children through basketball, set up one of their centres at the school that their lives found a new meaning. This school is not the only beneficiary of this initiative. Hi5 Youth Foundation has about 15 centres in Mumbai, which includes over 1,200 students and 22 coaches.
Next up: Hi5 Foundation is hoping to start a centre in Kolkata, at a slum area near Howrah
Usha Sundar, the co-founder of the NGO, and her husband relocated to India from the US in the hope to do something unique in the education space. “Our children grew up playing basketball in the US and we have seen how that has given them an edge. Moreover, our son was a basketball coach and we saw how he bonded with the children and became more of a mentor to them. That's when we decided to use basketball as a medium to educate children,” says Usha.
Soon, they networked with some professionals in the area, and prepared a proper course curriculum. “We always felt India needed a team sport. Basketball is played with five people who have an equal role to play,” says Usha, and adds, “In India, basketball is considered to be an elite sport, so we wanted to bring it to the underprivileged. We also felt that if any opportunity is given to them, they will make something out of it.”
Giving it all: Hi5 provides all the necessary equipment, including jerseys, shoes and snacks
When the coaching started in 2015, in their first centre in Ghatkopar YMCA, the students were provided with shoes, socks, snacks and other necessities. This was the philosophy they worked with. “Training by itself won't be of any help. You need to have the right infrastructure, right equipment and other things. These kids had no identity and no guidance. Sometimes, they would look outside the gates of YMCA and wonder when they can play. The minute they were given the jerseys, they felt elated. There was one kid who said he doesn't want to look like a beggar anymore and that now he would look like an actual khiladi (player). That overnight change in their sense of purpose came with just the jersey,” Usha recalls.
Since then, the word spread and people started noticing their work. The Bombay Municipal Corporation's Head of Physical Education contacted the duo and they took up 12 schools under their management for training. Today, Hi5 trains over 1,200 children and has plans to start a centre in Kolkata as well. But it's not just basketball that is taught. “We teach them life skills like self-confidence, fairness and cleanliness. We teach them why they should inculcate these habits and what happens if they don't,” Usha.
She adds, “We are creating an alternate pathway to succeed in life. Our municipal school girls have become much bolder, they can travel anywhere and be independent. One of the tribal girls was even called up for national tryouts. That's the kind of talent they have, why should they be forced to go back home and get married?”