by: Vinay Nagaraj, Student at Duke University
The last few summers, I had always made it a point to do community service of some sort. Not only do I enjoy giving back to the community, but I also find it extremely worthwhile to help others who aren’t as fortunate as I am. However, as an Indian citizen living overseas, I never really got the opportunity to do extensive community service in my home country. It was then that I discovered Magic Bus, the NGO that my aunt worked for. Through this organization, I realized that not only could I give back to the community in my home country, but I could also do it such a way that I could involve my passion for the sport of basketball. After taking a couple of days to develop my ideas formally, I sent a proposal to Magic bus outlining my plan to conduct a basketball camp for a group of underprivileged children during the summer, which they gladly endorsed.
Now having completed the basketball camp, I feel that it has definitely been an experience that has been imprinted me in ways that I could have never foreseen. Working with the kids, especially, was one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had.
On the first day of camp itself, I could tell there was these kids weren’t quite ordinary. Yes, they were energetic and enthusiastic to learn, but there was much more that I came to notice. They wanted to learn the sport of basketball from me, a clear outsider who lives in a foreign land, yet treated me like I was one of their own. In fact, as one who has lived in many countries, I’ve grown accustomed to people making snap judgments and assumptions when they first meet me. With these kids, there was no such problem. I could tell from the first day I met this group of children that they had no biases. They ran up to me and held my hand, introduced themselves, and kept telling me how excited they were to learn a new sport. That’s all there was to it. No need for personal questions or knowledge about each other’s backgrounds. They truly were here to learn basketball.
Before I worked with the kids in the camp, Magic Bus gave me a briefing about Dharavi, the slum in Mumbai that these kids lived in, and I learned about the impoverishment that they face on a daily basis. When I kept this in mind during the camp though, it didn’t quite add up. These certainly didn’t look like kids who were affected adversely by poor living conditions. On the contrary, I got glimpses of each of their vividly distinct personalities and noticed that all of them shared a high self-esteem which shone through as a subtle outwardly confidence. In fact, they didn’t hesitate to tell me if they weren’t getting the ball as often as the others, or if there was another activity they would rather be doing. Some even broke out into song and dance at the end of each session, while others gave me riddles to solve during snack breaks. Indeed, what I saw and came to admire was that these kids were a product of the Magic Bus system which helps fight against poverty in a very unique manner: empowerment. I learned that throughout their childhood, Magic Bus instills in kids a desire to fulfill their true potential, weaving in education about health and livelihood with sport. Without a doubt, every singe one of the kids who showed up at the camp clearly had an inner drive to pursue what they wanted despite their poor backgrounds. Even gender didn’t matter, because the girls were as, if not more, boisterous and spirited than even the boys! Only now, after coming back from India do I realize how lucky I was not only to observe the inner growth of these kids, but to be a part of Magic Bus’s process of empowerment.
In a camp that I planned to teach basketball, the kids weren’t the only ones who were doing the learning. I will always be grateful to them for imparting on me one very valuable mindset. Every time I taught them a new skill like passing, dribbling or shooting, it was not cumbersome to them but rather, an adventure. When we played a real basketball game, they were focused, but it wasn’t a battle of wits or a mind game of sorts. For the first time, I saw a group of children play the sport that I love, using the skills that I taught them, with heart. Truly, it was a wonderful thing to witness. They hustled after the ball, fought for every possession, and most importantly, let the game come to them. Often when I played, my moves were calculated, my mind always thinking of what to do next, which now I realize is not how a sport should be played. In fact, playing without thinking too much was something that my own basketball coach stressed, and here was a group of mostly eleven year-olds demonstrating a concept that I hadn’t fully grasped after years of playing basketball. They played hard and they played to win, but really enjoyed themselves while they were at it.
Truly, I count myself lucky to have been a part of such an amazing basketball camp and to have seen the essence of Magic Bus, and contributed to the process of individual empowerment with a group of motivated and inspiring children.
Now, years after I conducted the camp, I still want to continue my own journey with Magic Bus and find ways to contribute to a cause with which I have a personal connection. As a college student at Duke University, I found such a way with Awaaz, the largest annual student-run event on campus. Organized by Duke’s South Asian Association called Diya, Awaaz is production that celebrates South Asian culture and heritage and donates all of the money raised towards a different Indian organization every year. So I decided to nominate Magic Bus knowing that not only would it be a great cause for this year’s Awaaz, but also so that Magic Bus would be able to have more of a presence at Duke in the future. I am extremely happy to say that it did get chosen by Diya, and Magic Bus will be featured during Awaaz this week!
To learn more about Duke Diya, please visit: http://www.dukediya.com/
To learn more about Magic Bus and to make a donation, please visit: www.magicbususa.org