November 2 this year marked a joyous day in the lives of a community wound up in worries. The ‘Safe Spaces’ initiative, introduced as part of a global project led by ESPN, in collaboration with love.fútbol and Magic Bus India, had finally come to fruition.
Garvebhavipalya government school premises at Bandepalya, South Bengaluru witnessed an unprecedented level of excitement, as children and local residents flooded the opening of a newly built multifunctional sports court. In an hour’s time, this space, dedicated to the local community, would finally become their own.
Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President and MD, ESPN International, Ramesh Kumar, Vice President, ESPN India and South Asia and Ashwini Nachappa, former Olympian athlete, were among the people who visited the school for the opening. This community space, a platform for change through sports, had finally been handed over to the people of Bandepalya, all made possible after a year's conceptualisation and execution.
ESPN has maintained a strong presence in India for over two decades. Their Global Citizenship Program, led by the ‘Safe Spaces’ initiative, aimed at transforming lives through the benefits of sport for underprivileged communities globally. With a motive to equip children with knowledge and life skills through sports, the initiative also enables them to break away from the cycle of poverty and take control of their lives.
This project, sponsored by ESPN, has already witnessed heartening success, aiding more than 5,000 children in 2016 after it was integrated across the underserved communities of Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Sao Paulo in Latin America.
Soon to profit from and taste the same success is Bandeplaya - the first ever community in Asia where the Safe Saces initiative has been executed with the help from Magic Bus, famous for working with economically disadvantaged children, and love.fútbol, actively engaged in creating community centres as a catalyst for sustainable social change.
Before zeroing in on Bandepalya, ESPN worked with love.fútbol, their implementation partner, known for creating community soccer fields in some of most difficult conditions across Latin America, and Magic Bus India, the curriculum partner, to carry out research on areas in Bengaluru with needs that can be helped by the benefits of sport and community. Bandepalya faces issues such as poor dwelling conditions, increase in school dropouts, low level of education, concerns around health and hygiene, like lack of access to clean drinking water, poor sanitation along with a high rate of tobacco and alcohol addiction among children. After identifying the problems. the next step was to bring the community together in a way that celebrated sport as the potent force that can bring in visible change.
The extraordinary power of sport, says Ramesh Kumar, Vice President, ESPN India and South Asia, is to bond people, transform lives and enrich communities. “Safe Space is designed to provide opportunities to communities by offering them safe places to play and help them acquire the social and skills benefits that sports offer. Running these programmes successfully in Latin America makes me positive that we can replicate the same success in India too,” he adds.
In terms of inception, shortlisting, feasibility and final execution, the project took roughly a year to finish. Once a community in all of Asia and its problems were identified, the entire team began working on a programme to educate and train the youth in this area. An 8,000-sqft facility was set up, complete with an artificial turf for football, where children can also play basketball, volleyball, and cricket. The biggest walkaway success the transformation brought was ways of tying the local community together, which volunteered to build the complex with help from ESPN and Disney employees. “It was a collective effort of close to 250 people including the core team, local committee, community members and external partners through the year,” said Ramesh.
Beyond just providing high-quality multi-sports infrastructure, the court will also be home to ongoing development programmes for young people in the community aimed at teaching life-skills and empowering them to reach their potential. This will be delivered through a specific curriculum created by Magic Bus that will run a structured programme, using sports as an enabler.
The programme, which aims to reach out to 1,200 youth in the first year, will help gauge the interest level of youth including girls and then encourage them to play the sport they want to play.
Shedding more light on the curriculum, founder and executive chairman of Magic Bus, Mathew Spacie, said, "We involve the local members of the community so that they know this belongs to them now and they have to take responsibility in keeping it functional. Also, the high dropout rates in the community could be stemmed through measures like these. It will help keep more kids in school.”
Moments after the court was cleared of the celebratory atmosphere, the kids took off with a game of football, beaming with the assurance that their future now lies in their own hands.