Meet the 34-year-old who is empowering children with disabilities through sports programmes
Whether it is maneuvering the ball into the opponent’s goal post or sprinting till the finish line, participating in a sport not only makes you feel lively, but also boosts your confidence and energy levels.
We have all heard of the proverb - ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. This is often emphasised upon and used to encourage children and adolescents to take interest in sports and athletics. While many students in India have access to sporting infrastructure and facilities, a large section of them are deprived of it.
Young minds with disabilities face denial, discrimination and inadequacy when it comes to physical activities and recreation.
According to the 2011 Census, around 78 lakh people in the age group of 0 to 19 have some form of disability or the other. Only 61 percent of this population have access to schooling and education on a regular basis. Hence, playing a sport and experiencing the exhilaration associated with it is a far-fetched dream for many of them.
Delhi-based Umoya Sports has launched initiatives to help kids with special needs bridge this gap by fostering a spirit of inclusivity and equipping them to develop the required skills. Founded by Aditya KV in the year 2017, the NGO is providing sports programmes curated for students with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“Children with disabilities are often seen through a negative lens and subjected to discrimination. They are constantly deprived of opportunities not only on the academic front but also when it comes to other non-scholarly activities and sporting opportunities. The idea behind launching Umoya Sports is to enable these children to develop their physical, emotional, and social faculties by playing beyond barriers, and enjoying sports like anybody else,” Aditya KV, Founder, Umoya Sports, tells SocialStory.
In the last three years, Umoya Sports has touched the lives of more than 1,250 students from eight different schools and organisations including Khushboo Welfare Society, Action for Autism, Amar Jyoti School, Eka Education Trust and Ashish Center.
Laying the building blocks
After completing his degree from Amrita School of Engineering, Aditya went on to work with Tata Consultancy Services as a Systems Engineer. Three years down the line, in 2012, he resigned from his job and signed up for the Teach for India Fellowship.
“Over a period of time, I realised that I was not cut out for a 9 am to 5 pm corporate job. There was a lot of monotony and restlessness attached to it. I wanted to engage in an activity that can bring about a positive change in the community around me. That was when I decided to step down and join the fellowship,” recalls Aditya.
Once Aditya successfully completed the course, he started educating kids from low-income backgrounds at the Powai Municipal School in Mumbai. During his stint as a teacher, he noticed the kind of challenges that children with disabilities had to deal with. They were picked on by peers, denied opportunities, and looked down upon.
“There were four students with special needs studying in my class. And, I observed that the prejudice targeted towards the children started taking a toll on them mentally, socially, and academically. With a view to create a sense of inclusivity, I kicked off a football tournament for everyone to participate. Playing the sport brought all the students together and there was a significant improvement in the confidence levels of the ones living with disabilities,” notes Aditya.
Being a sports enthusiast himself, the 34-year-old was able to fully resonate and understand the transformation that the programme brought about in the attitude of the children. Aditya had suffered a major injury while playing football during his college days. He suffered from a ligament, meniscus and cartilage tear that left him bedridden for almost a year. The experience of being confined and handicapped made him sensitive to the day-to-day ordeal that people with disabilities go through.
Both these episodes drove him to work for the progress and inclusion of children with disabilities. Aditya founded Umoya Sports in 2017 and directed his efforts towards designing sports curriculums and conducting sporting events for schools.
“In the initial phase, I volunteered with a few NGOs working in the field of physical education in order to get a better insight into the syllabus and pedagogy they follow. In addition to this, I also took time out to interact with parents, special educators, and sports teachers. A few months down the line, I built a year-long sports programme with the help of my team and launched it as a pilot project in a special school at Gurgaon,” says Aditya.
Following the positive feedback from the pilot project, Umoya Sports floated its flagship sports programme for students with intellectual disabilities and special needs. Popularly known as ‘Joy of Play’, it is integrated with the academic curriculum of schools.
The NGO collaborates with schools teaching children with disabilities and implements the programme to train them in various sports like basketball, football, cricket, badminton, athletics, and yoga. The organisation has also appointed coaches who conduct sessions at the school and prep children to hone their physical skills.
“The entire programme has been designed keeping in mind the needs and limitations of students with special needs. As part of Joy of Play, each child goes through 108 hours of training in multiple sports over a period of one year, for which we charge a nominal fee from the school itself,” explains Aditya.
Besides this, the NGO organises several inter-school sports fests and events. A few of the prominent ones include Mission XI Million, a football competition on the lines of FIFA U17 World Cup, and a football workshop in partnership with Delhi Dynamos FC at VISHWAS Vidyalaya in Gurgaon.
Considering the restrictions with regard to stepping out of home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Umoya Sports has launched a digital education initiative called ‘Ability Spark’ for all children. This encompasses fun online fitness sessions that can be accessed by parents, caregivers, family members, and friends completely free of cost. Until now, the classes have been subscribed by 500 people.
So far, the NGO has received grants and donations from Teach for India’s InnovatED, the social incubator Unlimited India as well as the Indian multinational Wipro.
Khushboo Welfare Society, a school that imparts education to children and adolescents with disabilities, adopted the Joy of Play programme and saw tremendous improvement in the personality development of its students. Vijay Pal, the principal of the school resonated,
“Once the kids began engaging in sports and play, they were able to work in a team and developed an ability to gain mental strength. There was also a great improvement in their cognitive skills.”
Edited by Javed Gaihlot