Lal Kuan in south Delhi is like any slum in the capital. It has windowless homes and bylanes strewn with garbage. Amir, 14, was like most children in the slum—a school dropout getting into trouble every now and then.
“We would loiter around the whole day and get into trouble with other boys of the slum, the cops or our parents,” he says. Most parents in the slum are migrants, mainly from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. They are either employed in shops or as domestic servants.
Now Amir goes to school and is excited about a kho kho match. His friend and teammate, Shafuddin, says, “It’s a national match and we are in the Delhi team. Both of us are one of the best runners in the team.” Shafuddin lives in a nearby slum in Tughlakabad Extension. Several boys from Amir’s and Shafuddin’s slums have been doing well in sports like football, rugby and kho kho.
It all started with a garbage dump in the area nearby being cleaned up. “The people cleaning up the field were asking all the kids to come and play with them. It was a little different, but we went to just check what it was about,” says Amir.
The field was being cleaned by volunteers of Magic Bus, a Mumbai-based NGO that had recently launched its sports development programme in Delhi’s slums. “The idea was to encourage slum children to play just like children from well-off families do,” says Dhiraj Kumar, who heads the programme in South and Central Delhi. “These children had no opportunity or space to do that. Games are like an outlet for children, they stimulate as well as divert their minds.”
Amir and Shafuddin have now joined the organisation as volunteers. “Our job is to ask parents to send their children to come and play for an hour every two days. We play games and sports according to a timetable,” says Amir, who is also credited with introducing the highest number of girls to the programme.
“In most slums and poor areas, parents do not let their daughters step out of the house unaccompanied because of safety concerns,” says Amir. Shafuddin adds, “It was a challenge to have them send their daughters to play, as they would be home doing household chores or looking after their younger siblings. They now trust us, and when we showed them videos of their daughters playing, most of them thanked us.”