Sports coach Laxmi Durge, 18, leads students at the village school in Murti, India. The UNICEF-supported programme has empowered Laxmi and others to teach development through sport.
By Diana Coulter
CHANDRAPUR, India, 14 May 2011 – Laxmi Durge pretends to rinse lentils before a crowd of mesmerized school children. “Now this is how we cook the dahl,” the 18-year-old shouts, as she staggers under the weight of holding an imaginary pot.
About 50 students eagerly mimic her actions. As their voices echo across the dusty school ground, a group of passing villagers in a heavily-laden bullock cart stops to observe the commotion.
Fit and healthy
Curious, they watch Laxmi lead the children in an hour-long series of games. When the action pauses for a moment, an old man approaches. “What is this show?” he asks her. “I am the community sports coach,” she explains with pride. “We are teaching children in our village how to stay strong and healthy.”
It’s a lofty goal in this remote Maharashtrian village of Murti where not one student at Zilla Parishad Upper Primary School wears shoes. Most are from tribal communities who subsistence farm.
But Laxmi is determined to pass on the knowledge and inspiration that she’s recently acquired from the International Inspiration-Sports for Development programme, supported by UNICEF and the Indian government. The programme aims to increase awareness and acceptance of sport as a key part of children’s education and development in society.
Started in the district of Chandrapur, the programme recruits a girl and boy from more than 500 villages, training them how sport can educate, inform and be used for development, and then sending them back to local schools and communities where physical education and sports aren’t generally taught.
Success through teamwork
At the local school in Chincholi village, it’s clear that community sports coach Devakala Dingule, 18, has more on her mind than just teaching children a ball relay game. The team of children in red pinafores is still celebrating their relay victory when she asks them why they won. Puzzled at first, the students finally agree that they worked well together as a team.
Sports coach Devakala Gingure, 18, gets children active at a school in Chincholi village, Chandrapur district, India.
“Yes, this is also true in life,” Devakala tells them. “In society we must help each other. As a family, we work together, and also at school we share notes or do tasks together. This is how we succeed.”
After a raucous game of kabaddi, a team sport that involves boys and girls trying to snatch opponents before they escape across a boundary line, Devakala points out that it would be impossible to do this alone. “When we take the help of our friends, then we can do this easily. With unity, we find strength.”
She admits that in the past, sports seemed frivolous to her. “I would think there was no use in playing games, but after doing this and working with the children, I understand how important it is and how joyful we can feel.”
Student Vaishali Bawane, 12, found the leaping aggression of the kabaddi game uncomfortable until Devakala encouraged her. Part of the coaches’ mandate is to make an extra effort to include girls who typically aren’t as involved in sports. “I was finding it hard to play, but it was fun when I could do it,” Vaishali says.
Devakala has posted a schedule in the school that outlines the hours when she plans to come each week for sport sessions. But in this small village, all the children know where she lives and are always keen to practise whenever they can. “Sometimes, they will come to my home and ask for more games. They don’t like to stop,” Devakala says.
It’s the same in the classroom, says teacher Prakash Nandigamwar. “They ask us to organize more sports for them,” he says. “Earlier, kids didn’t like to come to school but now they are more interested and dropouts are becoming less.”
Aruna Kawathe, a subject expert who regularly visits schools in the district, says she has also noticed a change for the better. “Through this programme, they are building up the confidence of the children,” says Ms. Kawathe. “Previously, they would be hesitant to play at school, and now they ask the teachers for sport. They tell them: ‘We need this. It is good for us all.’”