Volunteer experiences: A magical afternoon with the children of Magic Bus

by:  Aman Patel

The experience in this post is Aman’s. Aman is a 19-year-old from Houston, Texas who is currently studying at the University of Texas, Austin. He recently visited Mumbai where he spent an afternoon at a Magic Bus session.

I learned about the work Magic Bus was doing through my mother. I was so impressed with their efforts that over the summer, I helped my mom spread awareness about the organization and gain local support in Houston.

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The more I learned about Magic Bus, the more I loved what the program was doing for children and youth in India. I was keen to become a more active supporter, so during my recent Winter break I decided to spend an afternoon at a Magic Bus session in Mumbai.

Though Winter, it was a fairly warm afternoon. I found my way to Mumbai’s famous Shivaji Park and easily spotted Magic Bus children thanks to their t-shirts. Soccer practice for some of the junior boys had begun and as I introduced myself to Ahsan (the mentor in charge of the session that day), he invited me to join in the boys at play – which of course I did!

Our first warm up was a game of tag where once tagged, the kids must hold hands and create a chain until everyone is caught. The young boy who began ran straight at me. I was no match, and as we held hands and chased after the other children, a nostalgic feeling of my friends back home dawned upon me. The young boy reminded me of my friend Amir back in Houston – so fun and full of life. I realized that children are children, no matter where or how you’re raised. I guess, some things never change.

At the end of an energetic and fun-filled 2-hour session of soccer drills, I said goodbye to the boys who had taken a liking to me (as I had to them). I then headed to the slums with Fatima didi to visit the Magic Bus office and meet with the community there.

The slum was dirty, cramped, and crowded. Small children played with marbles, pieces of paper, and whatever else they could find. There were large blue containers outside each house, which contained water for daily needs. I learned that these were manually filled by families from a community tap – it was a whole new world for someone like me.

As we made our way through the narrow corridors, walking one behind the other because of a lack of space, Fatima didi shared her story of how Magic Bus began. In the late 1990s, work brought a young Englishman named Matthew Spacie to Mumbai. After work, he would play rugby and often noticed a group of boys living at the bus stop watching him and his team practice. One day, he called them over to join in on the game. These games quickly became routine and over the next few months Matthew became their coach – in rugby and in life.

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The effect on the boys was remarkable. Being part of a team gave them a sense of worth and inspired them to aim higher. They began making positive changes in their lives because of Matthew and his mentorship. Matthew saw the dramatic influence he had on their lives and encouraged the boys to become mentors to other children in their community – this is how the Magic Bus model came about.

We went on to learn from Fatima didi that the sweet children that I had just played with had not been so sweet or innocent before. Coming from a life of poverty, they had been taught to commit petty thefts in order to help keep the home fires burning. I was surprised to learn that when Magic Bus first came to this slum, parents were against letting their children attend the sessions as that would mean less time spent on the streets begging and stealing. It took quite a lot of convincing, but the Magic Bus team finally managed to convince the parents and community.

The Magic Bus team soon learned that that was just the first battle of many – it turned out that the children themselves were not motivated. Constantly asking to use the bathroom, they would instead step out to smoke or chew tobacco. I shuddered at the thought of how children, who were not even teenagers, had succumbed to these addictions!

When Magic Bus stepped into these children’s lives, they diverted their energies positively instead. Through sports and games, they got the children to be attentive and interested in schoolwork, and taught them important life skills along the way.

Seeing the slums and what Magic Bus had done for those kids has inspired me to no end. I’ve begun fundraising for Magic Bus at my University and I’m also working on spreading more awareness about the program to those around me.

These are just small steps I’m currently taking. In the long run, I hope to become a bigger part of the organization.

Being from America, I’ve heard stories and seen many pictures, even movies such as Slumdog Millionaire, about slums and poverty in India. However, visiting a slum and witnessing the lifestyle of its inhabitants firsthand was a life changing experience. This may sound cliche, but it’s true – my eyes were opened to a whole new world!

My family is from Gujarat, and I have visited India many times, but thanks to my visit to Magic Bus, this trip was magically different!

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