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.

Thursday, October 9

Magic Bus children and Matthew Spacie gets featured in Aamir Khan hosted Satyamev Jayate tele show

Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) is a popular social commentary show which explores crucial social issues in India, looking at individual, government, and non-government efforts to address those issues, and urges people to take action.

Since the last 15 years, Magic Bus has taken a sport-based curriculum to help underprivileged children and youth break out of poverty.

Parvati, Vijay, Ritu and Gulafsha talking to Aamir Khan on Satyamev Jayate

Sports is usually associated with action, energy, strength, fitness, and excitement. Whether it's your favourite pastime or hobby, whether you are a sports person, or, simply a viewer, these words pop up in our mind when we speak of sports.

Can sports be an answer to poverty? Can sports ensure gender equality? Can it also bring about positive behavioural change?

The third season of Satyamev Jayate opened with exploring the power of sports in scripting change in people's lives. Host Aamir Khan began by reiterating the unexplored potential of sports and requested teachers and principals to give it equal importance in the curriculum. A series of interviews with people in different age groups followed, with each story revealing the tremendous potential of sports in bringing about change.

Magic Bus' interesting journey of pioneering a sports-based approach to work with poor children and youth was a major segment in the show. Four Magic Bus children, Parvati Pujari, Vijay Gupta, Ritu Pawa and Gulafsha Khan shared their stories of struggle and hope, and how it was Magic Bus' activity-based curriculum that encouraged them to get out of their situation and get educated, instilled in them a sense of confidence and discipline, and helped them transcend the deeply-gendered public-private spaces.

Parvati and Gulafsha are the first graduate within their family and community, and Parvati being the eldest at 21 in the group of four is now pursuing a professional career, and is a global fundraiser for children living in poverty. Despite their humble beginnings, each of them are leaders in their own right.

Read the stories of Parvati, Gulafsha, and Ritu.

Their confidence and fearlessness impressed Aamir and viewers alike. Their stories inspired admiration.

Next, Aamir welcomed Matthew Spacie, Founder and Executive Chairman of Magic Bus, to explain the thought behind the approach and it's early days. Matthew went back to the days he used to play rugby at the posh Bombay Gymkhana. A few boys from the adjoining Fashion Street were in charge of parking the cars of rugby players who played at the Gymkhana. Their interest in the game was evident but they could only watch it from the sidelines. One day Matthew thought of teaching them rugby.

During their training, he saw some remarkable changes in them - they had become unusually disciplined and punctual, and would try to cooperate with each other, and not fight. He also discovered that sports unified them all; in the field they were simply players and not members of different religious communities. Here was an answer to a whole host of problems plaguing Indian society!

Matthew Spacie telling Aamir Khan the Magic Bus story on Satyamev Jayate

Matthew connected the young boys to avenues of employment since most of them were from extremely poor households. But, none of them managed to hold onto their jobs. This made him acutely aware of the importance of sports early on, so that, children from poorer households could learn crucial life skills that would help them get better employment and opportunities.

At present, Magic Bus brings the transforming power of sports in the lives of 250,000 children within 20 states across India. The success of its approach is evident in the fact that 90 percent of children associated with Magic Bus are first-generation learners. 10,000 child and youth leaders in the programme work conscientiously to bring about change in their respective communities.

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Thursday, September 25

Magic Bus: Changing lives through sports

Published in IANS Live, by Santosh Rao. For the original article, click here

For Englishman Mathew Spacie it all started in the bylanes of Mumbai's Parel area in 1999. His aim was to take children out of poverty and give them a purpose in life through sports.

Spacie's love for India, in fact, began as a 17-year-old when he took a break from his studies and worked in the Howrah Leprosy Centre in Kolkata. His next port of call was Mumbai.

Playing rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana Club, he thought he could make a difference to the lives of street and slum children through sport. Fifteen years down the line, what started as a mere distraction has grown into a massive Magic Bus, an NGO encompassing 300,000 children in 3,000 locations across 19 states.

Magic Bus is now a major initiative, taking care of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls and Spacie has big plans to convert his dream project into a sports-based volunteer force to work among the needy children in various countries.

Magic Bus' curriculum on sport for development has won national and international recognition - the latest being the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Award, which it received from President Pranab Mukherjee last week on National Sports Day. It came within five months of the organisation winning the Laureus Award, the first Indian entity to get global acclaim.

After receiving the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation Award from its chairman and champion hurdler Edwin Moses in Kuala Lumpur in March, Spacie in his acceptance speech said: "Fifteen years ago the Magic Bus was started because outside my office there were 15 street boys who one day decided that they wanted to change their journey in life.

"It is now an organisation which has 300,000 children every single week attending our programme on this amazing journey from childhood all the way to livelihood and out of poverty."

The small, humble beginning has grown into a multi-discipline non-profit organisation where the target children engaged in personality development through structured play sessions, which sought to draw them towards issues of social relevance.

"Our motive has always been to take these children away from their under-privileged lives and use sports to instill values and influence behavioural and social changes," Magic Bus CEO Pratik Kumar, who has over 24 years' experience working with the United Nations, Government of India, International NGO and private sector, told IANS.

"Sporting activities and games are structured into each session to make them fun and appealing. There are specially designed sessions to represent real-life situations and challenges so children are able to relate these back to their daily lives," said Kumar, who joined the Magic Bus in 2009.

Kumar thanked the volunteers, who he said were the actual heroes of the organisation.

"Magic Bus works with close to 8,000 trained volunteers. Community youth leaders are trained and mentored to lead young children and through these volunteer-led programmes, we have been able to expand our reach," he said.

Kumar moved quickly to quash any comparisons to Physical Education (P.E.) classes in schools.

"Yes, we do indulge in physical activity, but this is very different from P.E. classes. We use sport only as a developmental tool, a metaphor, to deliver our message of development to kids."

"Through sports we try and bring kids together and then impart lessons on a wide array of subjects, from hand washing to gender equality and more," said Kumar.

One of the biggest successes has been 'Connect' -- a supplementary programme that provides livelihood options to grown up children.

Through this programme, Magic Bus offers leadership and employability skills training as well as counselling services to help them decide on their next steps. They are then linked to further education, vocational courses, and entry opportunities into the job market.

But not resting on their laurels, Kumar wants to take the number of kids to a million in the next two/three years.

"So much more has to be done. Our ambition is to reach one million children. We have started programmes in Britain, Nepal, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and we want to grow further and do much more," said Kumar.

Thursday, September 18

From India to South Korea: My experience at a UNOSDP Youth Leadership Camp

This is a blog by 21-year old Radhika Jeenwal's about her experience at a UNOSDP (UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace) Youth Leadership Camp in South Korea. Radhika is a Magic Bus Training and Monitoring Officer in charge of a team of 64 Community Youth Leaders who work in the field every day delivering the Magic Bus sport for development programme to 1800 children across South Delhi.

Radhika shares her experience of the camp here.

"The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) organised its 12th Youth Leadership Camp in Gwangju, a beautiful city in the Republic of Korea from August 19th – 30th 2014. I feel extremely happy and fortunate to have been chosen to represent Magic Bus at this camp.

               Youth Leadership Camp held in Gwangju, Republic of Korea               
Over 33 young boys and girls from all over the world participated in the Camp. In these 12 days, I learnt a great deal. I left the camp with a deeper understanding of how sport provides a forum to develop discipline, confidence, leadership, and other core principles such as tolerance, cooperation and respect. I learnt that sport is a powerful vehicle through which the United Nations can leverage as a tool to achieve its goals, in particular the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Sport should therefore be seen as an engine for development, not as a mere by-product.

The Youth Leadership Camp emphasised the potential that youth have to invoke change in their community. By helping youth develop their leadership skills in Sport for Development this programme not only contributes to the personal development of young people, it also contributes to community development. By providing opportunities for young people like me to develop and exercise our leadership skills, we are better able to build the capacity of our communities and respond to their pressing needs.

I have tried to capture the most significant learnings from my experience at the Youth Leadership Camp, below.

Day 1: Introduction, leadership and peace and Right To Play

It is important to know what kind of communication is needed for different situations. There are five basic types of communication:

·         Interpersonal
·         Intrapersonal
·         Group or team
·         Public
·         Mass media

Types of leadership:
  •         Inclusive leadership
  •         Authoritarian leadership
Day 2: Sports and peace-building with the International Table Tennis Federation

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is the governing body for all national Table Tennis associations. The role of the ITTF includes overseeing rules and regulations, and seeking technological improvement for the sport of Table Tennis. Table Tennis is one of the most popular sports worldwide. For many amateurs it is an economical and easy way of having fun and for professional players, it’s a passion.

Day 3: Adapting physical activities for those with a disability with Play&Train - partners of International Paralympics Committee

The International Paralympics Committee (IPC) has an exceptional track record of using sport to showcase what can be achieved by people with disability, on a global level.

Sport is a powerful tool for changing perceptions. It is an opportunity to recover/rediscover life.

Day 4: Leadership through Football with the English Football Association

The Association’s international leadership and volunteering programme, Changing Lives, was established in 2005 to provide an opportunity for young football leaders to experience volunteering abroad whilst leaving a legacy by sharing their own leadership skills with other young leaders from the host country.

The activities included:
  •         Introduction about Football
  •         Warm-up games
  •         Organising and managing a Football activity session
  •         Organising and running event with NW SWAGS Swimming Club, South Africa
Day 5: Swimming session and water safety games with NW SWAGS Swimming Club, South Africa

The first water experience of children is crucial, and therefore games play a big part during teaching. Knowledge of water safety games is very important for 'Learn to Swim' instructors.

Day 6: Peace and friendship in every corner of the global village through Taekwondo with World Taekwondo Federation

The World Taekwondo Federation works to provide effective international governance of Taekwondo as an Olympic sport. The federation helps promote, expand, and improve the practice of Taekwondo worldwide in light of its educational, cultural, and sports values and to promote fair play, youth development and education as well as to encourage peace and cooperation through participation in sports.

                                                   Taekwondo session led by World Taekwondo Federation
Day 7: Child protection/ Safeguarding youth and Sport for Development with Right to Play

This self-audit tool is an ideal way to measure how far (or near!) our organisation is from meeting international standards on safeguarding and protecting children in sport, and where we need to improve.

Day 8: Gender equality in sport with Korean Air

Gender is a social construct that outlines the roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a particular society believes are appropriate for men and women. Gender differences between men and women do not necessarily imply inequality. However, globally, women are particularly disadvantaged by gender constructs which prevent them from fully realising their rights, accessing resources, and harnessing opportunities.

Day 9: EPICS Forum

This forum is organised every year in Gwangju and is based on the concept of ‘Sports meets Art & Culture’ aimed at University students and other youth. At the end of this forum, Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace to the UN Secretary-General, asked all of us if we were aware of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It was a proud moment for me since I was the only one amongst the 33 participants who knew all the 8 MDGs and earned Mr. Lemke’s open appreciation along with a UNOSDP badge. This moment was really special. :o)

Day 10: Excursion day

We went around the city to explore and understand the culture, tradition, cuisine and rituals of South Korea.

Day 11: Action Plan/ prevention of HIV-infection and HIV-related discrimination among young people with AIDS

We were given some basic knowledge about HIV and AIDS, after which we took part in a quiz on the same topic. I scored well and was also rewarded with special appreciation.

Day 12: Promising practices

The concluding session saw representatives from each participating organisation demonstrate the work that their organisation does on Sport for Development. Like everyone else, I took this opportunity to share a glimpse of the innovative activity-based sessions that the Youth Leaders at Magic Bus hold every week with children from marginalised communities on the Magic Bus programme.

Certificate of participation in the Youth Leadership Camp
This was a 12-day journey in my life which I feel has really changed me, not only as a youth leader but also as a person. I would like to express my gratitude to Magic Bus once again for giving me the chance to take part in this camp. Last but not the least, I would  like to thank our Magic Bus CEO, Pratik Kumar, who left me with very encouraging words that filled me with a sense of confidence and ownership just before I departed from Delhi to South Korea.

Thursday, September 4

A historic time for sport for development in India

From the desk of Magic Bus CEO, Pratik Kumar

I am very happy to share that Magic Bus has been awarded the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar (National Sports Promotion Award), by the President of India, Hon. Sri Pranab Mukherjee, at his official residence, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, on 29th August 2014. The award recognises corporate entities, institutions and individuals who have played a significant role in the area of sports promotion and development. It is the first time that an award has gone to an NGO for promoting Sports for All and using sports as a tool for achieving serious development goals.

We believe that this award is a strong endorsement of our internationally recognised curriculum and methodology of using sports as a tool for bringing about social development. It is a recognition of our tried and tested 15-year old approach where we train local young volunteers to deliver our unique activity-based programme to children by becoming role models and mentors to them. Sports acts as the perfect hook to keep children and communities engaged in our programme as we embark on a long journey of bringing about changes in behaviours and practices in the areas of education, health, gender, nutrition, sanitation, leadership all the way to livelihood.

President of India, Hon. Sri Pranab Mukherjee, presenting the Award to Pratik Kumar, CEO, Magic Bus
The national award comes within months of Magic Bus winning the prestigious international Laureus Sport for Good Award, the first Indian entity to win this global recognition.

I believe that this national recognition will be a turning point in our history as we poise to take the next big leap in our endeavour to make a positive difference to the lives of a million children and youth in India and across the globe.

We are very grateful to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, for their recognition of our work and approach, which is today changing more than 260,000 lives in 19 States across India. We are also indebted to all our supporters and partners who have believed in us and been a part of this wonderful journey.

Find out more about our work at

Pratik Kumar, CEO, Magic Bus

Thursday, August 28

Magic Bus breaking the cycle of poverty, one child at a time

By Nidhi Singh, Guest Author at YourStory

The true potential of mankind is an unimaginable force that can do wonders if harnessed. As rightly said by the first African American President of the USA, “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself, that you realize your true potential.” And that is what Magic Bus is all about. It is about breaking the poverty cycle, one child at a time, and helping children transform the world around them. It is about catalysing change in communities and children. It is about creating ‘magic,’ as the name suggests, all across the nation.

How it all started 

A young player from India’s National Rugby Team, Matthew Spacie, used to practice daily opposite Mumbai’s famous Fashion Street, a hub for street children. Being the warm-hearted man that he was, he couldn't resist inviting the Fashion Street boys over for a game. As time passed by, Matthew began to notice positive behavioural changes in the boys — a direct result of being part of a team and overcoming challenges together. These boys, who had grown up on the streets, became more goal-oriented and wanted to improve themselves and their attitudes towards others.

Matthew discovered that the growing influence of this approach not only helped them transform their attitude towards life, but also taught them how to challenge their current realities and overturn their obstacles into a route towards well-being and success. Over a period of the next 10 years, this crystallized into a formal pedagogy that is now known as the Magic Bus Sport for Development curriculum. An approach that would go on to redefine the lives and destinies of many.

How it works

Magic Bus started in the year 1999 and has now expanded to 250,000 children as well as 8000 youth in 19 different states across the country. Supported by Cox and Kings and Cleartrip enabled an academically grounded ‘sport for development’ curriculum to be established.

By training local, community-based young people to deliver long-term programmes that focus on education, health and gender equity, Magic Bus enables children to have more choice and control in their lives to bring themselves out of poverty.  A comprehensive curriculum that uses activities and sport and a long term-engagement are delivered through a child-friendly mentoring approach. At periodic intervals, the mentor provides constant feedback, and monitors the child’s behaviour to bring about proven behavioural changes.

When the child grows up, she or he has the choice of joining Connect, a supplementary programme that links young people to higher education or job opportunities. As a result of this marvellous work, more than 250,000 children and youth have access to better education and improved health as they work towards strong livelihood options for themselves as adults.

Magic Bus uses its concept to not only pull children out of poverty but also to change the mindset of their parents and families. For this reason, the World Bank Development Marketplace Award was presented to the NGO during its formative years.

How obstacles are tackled

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. When a stranger enters a community where all is unknown and throws a ball in the air, everyone gravitates towards the ball. That’s the power and attraction of play. Despite this, the attitude towards girls remains a hurdle across geographies and regions. Getting girls out of their domestic duties and into the public sphere is a hurdle. To avert this in the best possible way, Magic Bus makes use of advocacy tools and tactics, including parents’ meetings, door-to-door campaigns and community-level tournaments to gain support for the intervention, and bring all stakeholders together to build a community that is gender-equal and child-friendly.

I left my old perception to think afresh and hopefully I can do a thousandth of what Magic Bus does to change my Motherland, my home — the nation of many with all hearts beating as one — India.

Original Article by Nidhi Singh at Your Story. Edited for this blog by the Magic Bus Communications Team.

"Nidhi Singh is a Computer Engineering student at NTU Singapore & a Global Evangelist at She has a passion for cars, non-fiction reads and music. Her hope is to create a dent in the universe, in her own way, some day. When she is not trying to find more opportunities to lay her hands on, you can find her writing, traveling or gorging on chocolate and cheese. ... read more on"