“Did you practice how to catch a ball like I asked you?” asks coach Rohit Kohli during a performance review after a cricket practice session.
He is asking this question to a group of eight children who are going to participate in the Street Child Cricket World Cup, which began in Chennai on September 22 and to conclude on September 30.
“I improvised my ball-catching practice at home using potatoes,” laughs Aadil, one of the eight players, most of who live in slum areas.
The idea, Kohli explains, was to encourage them to learn the sport, even with the limited resources available at home.
“Most of them are busy and do not have access to open fields in their immediate surroundings. So, I asked these kids to use vegetables to learn how to catch,” Kohli elaborates during one of the practice sessions in Mayapuri Park.
“It was difficult in the beginning because many kids here had never touched a bat or a ball. But now I am happy to say that we are well-prepared,” Kohli says.
The World Cup, organised by Street Child United , will see the participation of 22 countries, including England, Burundi, Hungary, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Nepal, Rwanda, Mexico, Sri Lanka, among others. Each team will consist of eight players: four boys and four girls, with two substitutes.
For 16-year-old Jannat, one of the eight children associated with Chetna (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action), an NGO that is upskilling the children, the opportunity to participate in an international event is a life-changing experience.
“I used to see other children in parks playing cricket and this would make me very happy. Now, I am happier when I get to play it,” she says. “I come from a very conservative family. At first, my mother did not allow me to play the sport. I kept insisting on it and she relented eventually. I told her that it is a very rare opportunity to go to another state to represent your team,” adds Jannat, who comes from Sultanpuri in North West Delhi and wants to become a lawyer.
The NGO identified 40 street and working boys and girls from diverse vulnerable areas within Delhi.
Following a selection process, a final cohort of 4 boys and 4 girls was selected to participate in the event.
“These children have faced numerous hardships in their young lives and are involved in various odd jobs. They are now using cricket as a means to transform their future.
They have been practicing diligently and building camaraderie and understanding of their own vulnerabilities under the guidance of dedicated coaches,” says Pooja Singh, a coordinator of Chetna NGO.
Apart from cricket, the children will also be involved in a cultural performance and have a congress about child rights in Chennai.
“We are a little nervous. We have never gone out of the city and now we will be meeting participants from 22 countries. We don’t know how they talk, feel, but we are ready to explore,” says Jannat.
For the cultural performance, the children have chosen a patriotic performance on a medley of four songs.
“We want to show the culture of our country,” one of them says.
“We [Chetna NGO] have been educating the children about child rights. Child rights is not a very new concept for these children. In the [upcoming] congress session in Chennai, these children will have a more extensive understanding of their rights as per UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). This will help them to have a thorough understanding,” says Manisha Rawat, one of the coordinators.
Karan, a resident of Shakur Basti in west Delhi, says that even though he is all prepared to participate in the World Cup, he wants to improve his bowling skills in the future.
An aspiring cricketer, Karan’s favourite player is Rohit Sharma.
“I saw him perform on TV and I was so captivated by his skills. In future, I want to become like him,” he says.
Unlike many children, Karan’s family is supportive of his goal to become a cricketer and his brothers even encourage him to play.
“I am glad they do that,” he says. One of the most difficult tasks was to mingle both boys and girls in practice sessions, says Kohli.
“They are brought up in an environment that if we ask them to stand in a circle, the boys will stand in one row and the girls in another. However, now they have started to understand the dynamics and adopt it,” he says.
Kohli, along with Chetna’s team, personally visited the families of the children to take permission for the participation in the tournament. He informs that many parents, especially of girls, were reluctant to send them to Chennai.
“I think this experience will change their perception,” he says.
Each child has a story to tell. For Shravan Sandhya, whose mother works as a house-help, this opportunity to interact with diverse people in Chennai will open a whole new world.
“These children can take an unpredictable path when presented with the right opportunity. Over the past three months, we have witnessed profound transformation in them. They have become confident, challenged gender stereotypes, and displayed courage to take on the lead,” says Sanjay Gupta, Director of Chetna NGO.