“Play a sport…sport has taught me how to handle failure…handle success…kept me grounded…it changed my life. It was the athlete in me that gave me the strength to fight and never ever give up (to tackle depression).” These are powerful words by Deepika Padukone, a well-known film star in India, on the launch of the latest Nike commercial promoting women to get active.
As a practitioner of sport to aid in the holistic development of youth, I am a true believer in the power of sport. But I could not have imagined the extent of its impact up until that day in June during the sports camp held in Kalimpong as part of KBC’s (Kadam Badhate Chalo) program activities. It was for the first time that PSD’s (Pro Sport Development) sports training modules were combined with MFF (Martha Farrell Foundation) and PRIA’s (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) gender training workshop. As this was a trial, we ourselves did not know how this combined training would impact the youth. And I certainly did not anticipate how it would change me.
Looking back, I can say with confidence that sport was the catalyst that promoted awareness, discussion and reflection among those girls and boys on their role as youth to help prevent violence against girls and women (VAG/W), and promote gender equality. Playing the games we devised helped them realize the value of understanding each other, acting as a team and working together to tackle social issues within their communities.
The youth group in Kalimpong comprised of school children from classes IX and XI, most of whom did not know each other prior to the training. The final day of the training started with us watching Dastak, a powerful street play, which highlights the issues of VAG/W prevalent in Indian society. It was the first time that I was watching it too. It left me angry but at the same time more motivated to play my role in ending VAG/W. But, what impact did it have on this group of young boys and girls? Hearing what they had to say left me astonished.
These young people shared several deep, emotionally charged and poignant stories and reflections. It showed a level of maturity well beyond their age. I noted with interest that girls were more open in sharing than boys, who found it harder to express their emotions during the camp, especially in large groups.
I returned to Delhi, but could not shake off the feeling which the reflections of that young group had evoked. What had made them open up like that? Was it the trusting and comfortable environment that had been created which allowed them, especially the girls, to freely express themselves? Perhaps it was the strong emotional bonds, along with a deep sense of trust and respect, which those young people had formed among themselves in just a couple of days?
Two key elements of the sports activities we had conducted stand out. First, these games promote several rounds of interaction among the participants, helping them familiarize themselves with each other, and become comfortable in each other’s presence. Second, the games and activities create situations wherein the participants are forced to work together and, more importantly, rely on each to complete the tasks to win the game. The games are played in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, helping to give the youth confidence to trust their own abilities.
Those boys and girls in Kalimpong reposed their trust in me by being so open with their thoughts and feelings. Their faith made me learn the responsibility I have as a trainer. The onus is on me as a facilitator to create an open environment where participants can freely express their opinions. It has made me value my role as a mentor in helping youth let go of their fear and inhibitions, and equip them with the confidence to express themselves and bring about social change.